Idyll suggests a mood rather than gives a genre and a form: in general light, playful, lyrical; not strenuous physically or intellectually; and perhaps with a hint of pastoral. I’ve written five such pieces down the decades. They include, as well as the first three actually so-called, an Ode (for Peter Pears’ 60th birthday) and an Inquietus (on his death ten years later): small-scale, intimate, avoiding the Big Statement: in a word, idyllic.
This Fourth is rather more elaborate than its predecessors. Some of the material goes back a few years; it found its proper place when sketching out the whole in the summer of 2006. These sketched were worked up and scored in the ensuing autumn. The result is a mosaic of many interwoven sections, playing continuously.
The opening sets out the main melodic idea in a paragraph of broad slow harmony, which fades into the first of three fast sketches. Each one will be successively quicker: this first is foursquare, vigorous, chunky – a sort of English hoe-down. After climaxing it quietens into gentle two-part textures – the piece’s core-material in quintessential form – prelude to a sequence of miniature solos for the winds of the small orchestra: 2nd bassoon, 2nd clarinet, cor anglais, 2nd flute; 2nd horn answered by 2nd trumpet, first horn answered by first trumpet.
A link passage from the opening music leads into the second fast stretch, alla valse. Then a fragment of the same linking music leads to an enhanced return of the woodwind solos, now given to the first players rather than the second – same order, bassoon, clarinet, oboe (not cor anglais), flute: then the four conversing brass instruments as before. Four bars of link introduce the third and fastest fast stretch, a scherzo whose first half is fleet, spiky, transparent, alternating winds with strings: then in its second half thickening up and gradually incorporating the entire forces to make out of the formerly miniature solo wind fragments a long arc of burgeoning melodic continuity.
It climaxes on a fully-scored return of the opening-and-link music, declining into the closing section, a Recitative that takes the orchestra, mostly in unison, from its bottom to its top, where the core-idea is sung out strongly and finally. After this, eight bars of cadencing chords give the piece’s harmony in a nutshell.
If all this sounds a bit technical and/or difficult to follow, I’d say – don’t bother! Just sit back and listen! If the music doesn’t explain itself as it sounds, I’ve not done my job!
Robin Holloway March 2007
This programme note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer.
As with the previous Idylls, this is a relaxed piece of music to be enjoyed by both orchestra and audience. The main thrust of the music is slow and calm. But that calmness is disturbed by three passages of ever faster music. The first could be described as a hoe-down, the second is a waltz and the third, the fastest, is a scherzo.
Repertoire Note by Peter Marchbank