I have now finished my biggest lockdown piece, a suite for solo harp, Street Through A Window. Bryn Lewis recently gave a wonderful performance of its first movement for the London Symphony Orchestra’s #CoffeeSessions.
The piece was sparked by workshops during the LSO’s Panufnik Scheme. I knew I wanted to write for detuned harp inn my orchestral work and so treated the workshop as an opportunity to feel out those sounds. The shifting second movement, with its tricky cross-rhythms, but simple melodic ideas, came out of those workshops.
When lockdown came around, I find myself continuing these sketches from quarantine. With no other work, anxious for what might come, I turned to writing. Sat at a table in the living room of my partner’s flat, it became a therapeutic practice.
I’m pleased with the result, I think. It’s my first multi-movement solo work, and I really enjoyed the form. I found the modal theorising I did last year very helpful in prompting harmonic ideas and in structuring the piece around the tritone axis between A flat and D.
In some ways, this is the most “classical” piece I’ve written in a while. There are some clear genre allusions – a Saraband, a scherzo – and a semi-rigorous approach voice leading. This approach came in part out of the constraints of the retuned instrument. Detuning makes some notes unavailable, forcing an efficiency of harmony that had broader stylistic implications. Aspects of the music are challenging (the rhythm especially) and so I also wanted to make sure the pedalling wasn’t also a major hurdle.
My next goal for this is to try and organise a complete performance! Perhaps, as it is a solo work, it may find a space for performance as lockdown relaxes.
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