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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

Wood, Metal and Skin (2004)
Work Notes
Percussion instruments needed: SOLO: Marimba, metal wind chimes [mark tree], Chinese Bell tree, Vibraphone, Tubular bells, 4 conga drums, 4 tom toms, 4 bongos PERC A 1o: Tubular bells, cymbal [medium], wood blocks, crotales PERC A 2o: Metal wind chimes [mark tree], Side drum, temple blocks, tam tam PERC B 1o: xylophone, glockenspiel, side drum, cymbal [high], tomtoms PERC B 2o: Chinese bell tree, Bass drum, maracas, triangle, sleigh bells
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
17 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Thea Musgrave Wood, Metal and Skin (2004)
This work is intended to feature the extraordinary variety of percussion instruments in a dramatic way. The interplay of the solo percussion player with his colleagues in the orchestra plays a vital role. This can be seen in the layout. The solo percussion player is set downstage RIGHT: the timp player upstage RIGHT: two orchestral percussion players "A" upstage LEFT, and two others "B" downstage LEFT. The timp and percussion are therefore set at the 4 comers of the platform.

PROLOGUE: dramatic
A dramatic opening as the timp player "summons" first the orchestral percussion players [upstage "A" players on metal, downstage "B" players on skin] and finally the soloist [on wood...marimba]. The main musical elements are four "anchor" chords [D flat minor, A major, E flat major and C major triads] followed by a series of rising triads. These are the harmonic foundation for the section, and they reappear in the interludes.

WOOD: lyrical
Soloist on marimba is accompanied by percussion A [xylophone and maracas], and percussion B [temple blocks and wood blocks]. Here the mood is lighthearted and lyrical. A violin melody appears and also a short motive for muted trumpets. Soon the timp player gets restive, effecting a change of colour and mood.

INTERLUDE: mysterious
The "anchor" chords now reappear very softly, alternating on three solo violins and three solo celli. The soloist sets the colour of the movement on tubular bells and vibraphone, the orchestral percussion play cymbals and tam tam with wire brushes, and also introduce two more unusual instruments: metal wind chimes and Chinese bell tree. The timp player has a cymbal placed upside down on the drum and thus is also playing on metal!

METAL: capricious
The capricious mood is set by the soloist on vibraphone accompanied by the instruments from the interlude, later adding glockenspiel and crotales. The mood eventually clouds over and, incited by the timp player, all is ready for the stormy movement to come.

INTERLUDE: excitedly
The anchor chords reappear now on muted brass, but the interlude is mostly carried by the percussion. The soloist plays congas, tum toms and bongos, the other percussion a variety of drums.

SKIN: stormy
Now that the percussion is all on loud drums, the orchestra lets loose in a very fast stormy movement which leads to a "wild" climax! Eventually the mood cairns down and leads to

EPILOGUE: peaceful
... a peaceful ending. The soloist plays vibraphone and tubular bells, and later marimba: the other percussion play a variety of instruments so that the colours of wood, metal and skin are all present at the same time!

Score preview:

  • 02 MAR 2005
    Three Shanties World Premiere
    Wood, Metal and Skin London Premiere
    Royal Festival Hall, London
    BBC Concert Orchestra
    Colin Currie (percussion); Barry Wordsworth, conductor
  • 05 JAN 2005
    Glasgow, Scotland, UK
    National Youth Orchestra of Scotland
    Colin Currie, Percussion; Garry Walker, conductor
  • 04 JAN 2005
    Wood, Metal and Skin World Premiere
    Usher Hall, Edinburgh
    National Youth Orchestra of Scotland
    Colin Currie (perc); Garry Walker, conductor

Far from offering another opportunity to bash anything that is created out of wood, metal or skin, Musgrave has clearly taken into account Currie's virtuosity and sensitive musical expressiveness. In also involving three groups of satellite solo percussion, Musgrave has provided a work in which Currie - too often the lonely soloist - can enjoy a bit of instrumental jousting with his percussive and orchestral colleagues. As you might expect from Musgrave, abundant contrast in rhythm, colour and texture is fastidiously and fascinatingly woven into the musical fabric.
Lynne Walker, The Independent,10/01/2005
Entitled Wood, Metal and Skin it is , in the words of the composer, an orchestral drama designed to feature the extraordinary variety of percussion instruments. Structrured as seven short orchestral episodes with solo roles for three percussionists from within the orchestra and starring the virtuoso Currie as principal soloist, the work develops a fascinating theatrical interplay between the solo player and his orchestral colleagues. To heighten the sense of drama within the music, Musgrave begins her piece without her soloists on stage, and as the work gathers pace, so they enter, one by one from different doors, acknowledging each other with a wave as they assume their place within the performance, with Currie arriving at the last possible moment to add to the sense of theatre. But the percussion virtuoso is not one for unnecessary flamboyance. He moves among his instruments with a lithe athleticism, playing with an enthralling flair and concentration which is quite gripping to observe. With mesmerising rhythmic patterns pulsating from side to side, sound flowing from left to right and back to front Walker skillfully drove the work on at pace, to finish with a rather beautiful and peaceful ending, as all of the tonal colours of the title were brought together in final dissolution.
Sunday Herald,09/01/2005
With the action swinging from one extremity of the platform to another, and with the orchestra (including other sorts of soloist) in the middle, the work's centre of gravity constantly shifted in the course of what gradually took the form of a sort of symphonic accelerando, mounting through the first six movements and dissolving suddenly in the seventh. Musgrave's succinctness and command of fine instrumental sonority ensured that every note counted.
Conrad Wilson, The Herald,07/01/2005
The Musgrave debut was safe in [Currie's] fast-moving hands. Walker too has an enviable track record of bringing contemporary music to life. The first impression the new concerto generates is one of careful planning in detail - on a number of planes. The music itself was remarkably translucent and easy to follow. Overall this must count as one of the orchestra's most succesful appearances.
Sandy Scott, Edinburgh Evening News,05/01/2005
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