Poul Ruders on Concerto in Pieces
Concerto in Pieces was commissioned by the BBC as a celebration of two major events in British history of music: the 1995 tercentenary of the death of Henry Purcell and the 50th anniversary of Benjamin Britten's Young Persons' Guide to the Orchestra in 1996.
Being non-British my first reaction to the commission was a mixture of feeling very honoured and - as a foreigner - being quite scared of 'messing around' with two such holy cows of a national musical tradition not my own. On the other hand, the subjects stipulation the commission weren't that far away from my own upbringing: having been a member of Copenhagen Boys' Choir I'd come across both composers more than once, in fact, on the home front (so to speak) my father owned quite a collection of old 78s with Purcell's
music, which I heard all the time and loved very much. Later on in life, composers of Britten's mould - the highly professional orchestral dramatist - became a role model for my own artistic endeavours, so - having personally obtained that status or not - the urge to and challenge of trying to do a 'show-piece' with an education angle based on Purcell presented too much compositional temptation for me to resist. One thing was clear, though, from the beginning: if I wanted to come out of this venture alive, I'd have to chose a Purcell theme as far away in shape and nature as possible from the marvellous one Britten selected for 'Young Persons' Guide?' (a dance tune from Abdelazar, or the Moor's revenge). For me to choose the same tune, well, I'd just as well jump out of the window? So, I decided to use the fast, swinging 'Ho-Ho-Ho witches' chorus from the beginning of Act II of 'Dido and Aeneas'. The original part chorus appears intact, seamlessly merging into Variations both sections composed for full orchestra. Then, the first of several poken commentaries appears, commentaries summing up as well as introducing what's going on in terms of
orchestral activities. As opposed to Britten I focus more on the various combinations of instruments - the many faces of the symphony orchestra - rather than merely presenting the individual instruments. However, Concerto in Pieces (the title hardly calls for further elaboration ) may be performed without the commentaries, as an uninterrupted set of variations..