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Nocturne & Masquerade

 

For Flute (doubling Piccolo), Harp, Piano, Violin, Viola, 'Cello

Duration: 10 mins

 

In writing a piece to commemorate the centenary of Debussy’s death I decided to explore a topic to which the great French composer was himself drawn on various occasions: commedia dell’arte (a form of masked and largely-improvised theatre that originated in Italy in the sixteenth century). Whilst Debussy’s view of the subject was through the decidedly French prism of Paul Verlaine’s poetry and the paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau, the starting point for my own piece, Nocturne & Masquerade was a series of frescoes by the Italian painter Giandomenico Tiepolo, in which rustic scenes are populated by multiple Pulcinella, rather than by people.

Inspired by the title of one such fresco, Pulcinella innamorato (Pulcinella in love), the frst movement of my piece, Nocturne with bells imagines a fantastical, commedia-esque night in which the ringing of bells frames a melancholy serenade, and the strumming of guitars and a mandolin hang in the air.

In the second, more playful movement Masquerade, contrasting musical characters - some dance-like, others virtuosic - jostle for position in a series of quirky episodes. Many of the musical ideas in this movement share the same falling-then-rising contour and this is a response to Tiepolo’s fresco L’altalena dei Pulcinella in which several masked fgures await their turn on a swing.

Nocturne & Masquerade is a musical cryptogram in that the notes upon which the piece is based are drawn from the letters of Debussy's name. Debussy used the same approach in his piano work, Hommage à Haydn, which was written to commemorate the centenary of Haydn's death and so it seemed ftting that I should employ this technique in my own tribute.

 

Nocturne & Masquerade was commissioned by Hebrides Ensemble and given its first performances in the New Auditorium of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and in Perth Concert Hall.

Click HERE to watch the Hebrides Ensemble's performance of the work.

Click HERE to watch Peter discuss the music.