Traditionally it's four temperaments, of course. But these five movements do not depict the traditional ‘humours’ (choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholic) of medieval humanism (though perhaps a couple overlap). Rather, they are five states of mind, evoking human moods shared in varying mixes and proportions by everybody.
I hope I won't be accused of coyness in not revealing them explicitly! I'm relying on the music itself to suggest the individual temperaments contained within. Which is perhaps a hangover from another piece written at the same time as this wind quintet (Summer 2007): settings for six-part vocal consort of riddles, conundrums, teases, that deliberately doesn't provide answers.
The overall shape, however, is:
1: an aggressive, turbulent opener, building up through complex polymetric superimpositions to a spasmodic climax; whose last gasp punctuates the first strains of
2: a folksong/ballad number, the (mainly unaccompanied) melody passing from french horn to english horn, and back; linking to
3: slow tranquil colour-chord changes, gradually animating and separating out then coagulating again into stillness.
4: a scherzo whose main idea, thanks to the doublings possible within the five players, manages to give the impression/illusion of eight (in order: clarinet,horn, bassoon, english horn, flute, bass-clarinet, oboe, piccolo) before the final gossamer-lite free-for-all.
5: long gently-dissonant lines of 2, 3, 4, 5-part counterpoint; the highly irregular phrase-lengths melted into smooth lyric continuity.
© Robin Holloway, January 2008
This programme note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
"How good that, in this noisy new century, composers are still producing works of such subtle, understated content and impeccable craftsmanship..."