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Augusta Read Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Carillon Sky (2005)
G Schirmer Inc
Soloist(s) and Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed
7 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Alternate Orchestration
Alto Saxophone; 1(pic).1.1.0/0.1(pictpt).1[=atbn].0/[=va]
Programme Note
Augusta Read Thomas Carillon Sky (2005)
Composer’s note:
The title Carillon Sky refers to a fantasized image that stimulated me to compose this music — that of a sky full of very soft tinkling and flickering bells, as well as very clamorous pealing, ringing, resonant bells, through which one floats. As if a Cathedral's Bell Tower becomes a metaphor for natures ever changing landscape and the violin soloist is a distinctive bird soaring, interacting, circling and swirling in the resonance. The original working title for this composition was Birds and Bells, since there are many bird-like and bell sounds; but Carillon Sky seemed a more abstract and poetic title upon reflection.

The idea was to try to compose a mini violin concerto, but one that is in fact a "whole piece" — all packed into less than 7 minutes. This is like a miniature etching.

The solo violin part is marked with this performance indication: "Passionate and rubato; like a jazz improvisation. Accentuate the variety of characters." Nine bars before the end of the work, there is an option for the soloist to compose and play a short (30 second) cadenza in the style and language of the composition. Trust for the skills and taste of the original soloist, Mr. Baird Dodge, inspired me to allow this option, which recalls the great, deep-rooted tradition of players making cadenzas in concerti.

Made up of several phrases, some of which end on fermatas, the works characters include: majestic, playful, elegant, resonant, spirited, calmly floating, bold, with repose, resolute and graceful. The form is slightly unusual in that the phrases are of asymmetrical length. As if a "group of improvisers" takes the materials a little further "out" or "back in" (in the jazz sense of those words) with each successive phrase. The piece accumulates — rather than being in one of the standard forms, such as ABA form, or rondo form. The form is the best reaction to the objects calling it into being.

Great care was given to the selection of pitches and to the creation of the harmonic fields in this work. I LOVE harmony; and think of my harmonies (simple or rich) as a moving target within a moving target.

It was my intention to bring out much color from the 14-member ensemble.

In the soloist's part, as well as in the ensemble, there are imbedded, in any phrase, other sub-phrases. A kind imbedded-counterpoint emerges with two or three simultaneous lines. For instance, some of the music is made up of long notes and some of short figurations (trills and arabesques) and it is the connection of the two that I find interesting. I like to "write out" the trills because I hear them to have more than 2 notes, to be sporadic in rhythm, and thus, not to be just a simple trill. A highly nuanced figure, with a particular shape and inner life is more interesting to my ears. I use many grace notes. Another example of the imbedded counterpoints comes from the fact that the violin has many different colors, especially from range to range. The lowest register is rich, dark and haunting, while the very top range is trumpet-like, brilliant and shimmering. Springing back and forth between different registers, and with contrasting dynamics, gives the sensation that more than one voice is in play and that somehow the truth of the piece is in the crossways between the various intersections.

While the music was very carefully made, and is highly nuanced, and is a "serious" piece of music, it should sound free, spontaneous, resonant, jazzy, playful and alive.

—Augusta Read Thomas

  • Ensemble
    Various Artists
    Nimbus Alliance:
  • 02 OCT 2017
    MusicNow at 20
    Chicago, IL
    members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Cliff Colnot, conductor
  • 01 FEB 2017
    Greeley, CO. USA
    Russell Guyver, conductor
  • 08 JUN 2013
    Buffalo, NY
    Ken Radnofsky, saxophone; Brad Lubman, conductor
  • 21 SEP 2010
    Rantoul, IL
    University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign
    Steven Taylor, conductor
  • 04 JUN 2010
    Buffalo, NY
    June in Buffalo
    Brad Lubman, conductor
  • 21 FEB 2010
    Rochester, NY
    Eastman School of Music
    Brandon Kies; Sien-Kwan Lin, conductor
  • 09 JUL 2009
    West Hartford, CT
    World Saxophone Congress
    Carrie Koffman; Chris Hughes, conductor
  • 03 APR 2006
    Chicago, IL
    Music Now Contemorary Chamber Music Series
    Oliver Knussen, conductor
  • 30 NOV 2005
    Evanston, IL
    New Music Northwestern
    Ryan Nelson, conductor

Carillon Sky is a de facto violin concerto, but Ms. Thomas expectedly utilizes the concerto form in innovative ways. Her faculty for distilling the most essential spirits from long-standing musical forms suggests that traditions are liberating rather than confining for Ms. Thomas, much as they were for Brahms. More than in many of the violin concerti of the 20th and 21st centuries, the violin writing in Carillon Sky is focused on thematic development rather than empty display.
Joseph Newsome,,01/05/2014
"Gusty" Thomas signed off [as curator] on the MusicNOW series...with a generous program that included the world premiere [of] her own Carillon Sky (2005)...Baird Dodge dispatched the piece beautifully as...the featured violin solo in Carillon Sky, Thomas' "thank-you" to the entire CSO family. The title suggests the image of a sky full of pealing bells and chirping birds. The violin shifts expressive character like a musical chameleon, nestling in the delicate scoring for 13 instruments before improvising a cadenza.

The music was engrossing...

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune,01/01/0001
"Sheer beauty of sound is not always a byproduct of contemporary chamber music performances, but it was front and center at the MusicNOW concert Monday night in Symphony Center. "Now in her ninth and final season as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's composer-in-residence, Augusta Read Thomas has been one of the guiding spirits behind the CSO's increasingly solid MusicNOW series. Her taste is eclectic. As she said in introductory remarks Monday night, "MusicNOW has no house style.'' "Thomas' world premiere, Carillon Sky for Dodge's solo violin and small ensemble, was full of her typical sensitivity to musical color. Dodge's violin was sweet-toned but assertive, dancing in and out of conversation with the accompanying ensemble."
Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun Times,01/01/0001
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