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Stuart MacRae

Publisher: Novello & Co

Hamartia (2003)
Commissioned by the Scottish Ensemble
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloists and Large Ensemble (7+ players)
Year Composed
17 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Stuart MacRae Hamartia (2003)
Hamartia means “tragic flaw”: an imperfection of body or character in the hero of a Greek tragedy. Inhabiting the same mind or body as the heroic characteristics which drive and allow the hero’s brave deeds is some weakness or flaw which precipitates his downfall. Implicit in this idea is the assumption that all of us, regardless of our deeds and abilities, will suffer eventual – and ultimate – downfall.

None of the material in the piece is intended to evoke either the heroic or the flawed – rather there is the implication of both heroism and imperfection in the various confrontations and collaborations between the two main types of material in the piece: the elemental, often mechanistic chordal music of the ensemble, and the more expressive, lyrical quality predominantly heard from the cello.

Stuart MacRae, 2003

Preview the score:

...a rhythmically pungent "argument" between the soloist and string orchestra that evokes, according to the composer, "a strange, archaic ceremony". MacRae clearly has a refined ear for texture and haunting melody, which the Chinese cellist Li-Wei gratefully embraced in his extended, improvisatory cadenza.
Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times,28/08/2005
These textures have been heard at the Proms before, though 16 years ago, when the overt emotion of John Tavener's The Protecting Veil startled the crowds expecting hard-core modernism. Hamartia is like The Protecting Veil for grown-ups; it, too, is passionate, but there's nothing worn on the sleeve. Instead, the cello's lyrical implorations form a severe and sober elegy, as if MacRae were suppresing the pain of some distant hurt.
Martin Anderson, The Scotsman,25/08/2005
Stuart MacRae's Hamartia, in its London premiere, revealed a concise plan in which its free-flowing solo cello (the deft and expressive Li-Wei) was steadily brought into the uniformity of the group.
Robert Maycock, The Independent,23/08/2005
The highlight of the Scottish Ensemble's late-night Prom was Hamartia, Stuart MacRae's recent piece for solo cello and strings. Li-Wei's impassioned reading of the solo part was the expressive heart of the piece. MacRae traps the cello's lyrical music within a mechanistic musical maze in the austere, ritualistic music of the other string parts. After a violent climax, in which the cello part was suffocated by the density of the ensemble's music, Li-Wei made a bid for musical freedom in a long cadenza, but the piece ended with a soft-focused musical truce, an ambiguous coda brilliantly depicted by the Scottish Ensemble players.
Tom Service, The Guardian,22/08/2005
Li-Wei cut loose in an anguished stratospheric cadenza.
Richard Morrison, The Times,22/08/2005
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