Spring Music is the third in a projected set of four chamber concertinos, each for a different selection of six instruments; that evoke at the same time the Seasons and the character if not the style of four composer-friends. Summer Music (Alexander Goehr and his wife) was the first, in 1991; Winter Music (Rupert Bawden) followed in 1993: Autumn Music is still to come.
Spring Music (2002) is dedicated in this double manner to the Season and to Howard Skempton. Its ensemble is built around harp and flute, with a string quartet in a slightly subsidiary role. Its idiom is "White on White". The basic material eschews chromatic notes except in moments of tension, climax, relief. But each melody-instrument is given a solo aria, cadenza, dance, in which just one altered coloration is permitted, influencing the harmonic/melodic flavour like a squeeze of lime or lemon or a pinch of herb or paprika.
The overall shape is successive rather than cumulative:
Introduction: For all six players
Allegro: For varying combinations of all except the cello whose four strains of sarabande (accompanied by harp) break up and punctuate the fast music. This alternation is once interrupted, by a tender solo for violin II (joined by flute and harp).
Canzona I: For all six players: It closes in a cadenza and intermezzo for solo harp, leading to the Chaconne.
Chaconne: After two variations comes the viola’s solo, a valse (again joined by harp and flute), before the long slow variation – flute to the fore - which makes the core of the whole piece.
Then follows a dance-like solo for violin I (again joined by the harp and flute).
Prelude: (Briefly back to the mood and movement of the introduction); and Fugue - in which modal entries on all the ‘white notes’ in turn, on the five melody instruments, are gradually infiltrated by the harp with all the ‘black notes’ in turn, eventually turning/tuning the harmony into the complementary opposite of its fundamental setting. (These metaphors of black-and-white derive from the keyboard, of course, but are still the simplest way of putting it.)
Canzona II: For all the players, restores pure white-on–white.
© Robin Holloway 2003
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer