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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

Two's Company (2005)
Commissioned by the BBC
Work Notes
Commissioned by the BBC, and dedicated to Evelyn Glennie and Nicholas Daniel for whom this work was written.
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
21 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Thea Musgrave Two's Company (2005)
This work was commissioned by the BBC for Evelyn Glennie and Nicholas Daniel. It was an exciting challenge to write a dramatic work for two such dissimilar instruments. I decided that I would strongly dramatize this difference before bringing them harmoniously together. Thus at the beginning of the work the two soloists are standing as far apart from each other as possible: the percussion downstage left, behind the celli, and the oboe off stage right. For each of the four ensuing sections the soloists move around the orchestra to different positions and these changes are always dramatically motivated. Throughout the two soloists are aware of each other and play with each other's attention, but only come together musically and physically in the very last section.

The slow first section is marked Desolate, lonely: When the oboe first enters he responds initially to the cor anglais, and then later to a solo clarinet. This encourages him to go on stage and take a position near his fellow woodwinds which precipitates the second movement. The solo percussion, hoping to attract the oboe's attention moves to the vibraphone which is set closer at hand.

The second section, Frivolous, playful is a jaunty scherzo, mostly in 5/4 rhythm, and for a time it seems that the oboe responds favourably to the percussion, but then the horns attract his attention and he eventually moves so as to be close to them and the harp.

In frustration the solo percussion moves to the drums [congas, tomtoms and bongos]. The third section Dramatic: furioso/espressivo is a series of confrontations. Aggressive music for the percussion [supported by strings and brass] alternates with an expressive solo oboe [accompanied by horns and harp]. These alternations come closer and closer together ending in a big climax. The oboe finally turns to the percussion and "invites" her to listen. The percussion responds and so sets the scene for both soloists to come down stage center and bonding for the final section: Warm leading to Passionate and finally Exultant a whirling coda.

Score preview:

  • Ensemble
    BBC Symphony Orchestra / BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
    Lisa Milne, soprano; Evelyn Glennie, percussion
    Osmo Vänskä / Jiri Belohlavek
Musgrave's take on concert music has often been theatrical, and mobile performers were [a feature.] Evelyn Glennie began half-hidden behind the chimes, bells and gongs at the back of the cellos, looking like Trilok Gurtu at the start of one of his improvisations. Nicholas Daniel appeared from the stalls opposite, and moved hesitantly towards the orchestra in response to plaintive calls from the woodwind. The music then proceeded as a choreographed flirtation. As Daniel came into sight, Glennie ran away to another island of percussion at the rear. When he got too close, she moved to mroe aggressive instruments and drove him back. Finally, a melting, lyrical line lured her to join him near the conductor, where a marimba awaited, and the music emerged from its anxious, restless state into a vigorous fandango. Far from being imposed on the piece, this little drama was the outward expression of what was going on within the music. Musgrave's writhing counterpoints, with their restless, post-Debussy harmonic flavour, reached several crises that articulated the 25-minute span. Players from the orchestra stood up from time to time and engaged in secondary conversations. The whole work, scored with delicacy and grace, swept forward with a gathering momentum, and the total experience was captivating.
Robert Maycock, The Independent,04/09/2007
There is a gentle element of spectacle to Thea Musgrave's new work, Two's Company, written for the odd soloistic couple of oboist Nicholas Daniel and percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Unattended clusters of percussion instruments are ranged at various points around a chamber-sized orchestra. Glennie begins stage right, adding low chimes and sweeps of glittering bells to an elegiac, deep-breathing opening. When Daniel joins in, duetting with cor anglais, viola and clarinet in turn before settling on a dialogue with Glennie, it is from up the steps on the other side. The rest of the piece sees the two moving to different stations around the orchestra - …while getting ever closer, until Glennie lets Daniel lead her to the marimba at the front, where they combine in more conventional duet. It works, just about, though in the context of a space this vast the distances between the two soloists never seem that great. At 20 minutes the piece is hardly insubstantial….. And Musgrave's musical style, tonal but never obvious, remains intriguingly and appealingly her own.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian,03/09/2007
……Thea Musgrave's new piece is a charmer, starting with shimmer and bells over dark murmurs, a sun-dappled Mahlerian forest. Playfulness and aggressiveness are kept within decorous limitations, controlled, lyrical and - is this why she has to live in America? - attractively tuneful. An immediately accessible work, it makes one wonder why Musgrave is heard relatively rarely in Britain. One of our few composers who tackles big works (what on earth happened to Covent Garden's co-commissioned 1985 opera on anti-slavery campaigner Harriet Tubman, an obvious choice for this year's abolition celebrations?), Edinburgh-born Musgrave deserves pride of place in a national opera company. But then the Scottish government's attitude to the arts makes John Knox look as hedonistic as Pete Doherty.
Martin Hoyle, The Herald,03/09/2007
This is a musical courtship, with the orchestra acting as friends and facilitators in a romance between a pair of seemingly incompatible instrumental forces. [...]Beautifully played here, Two's Company had at its root a cunning idea that married music to an eternal emotional conundrum, and with the orchestral commentary and encouragement, was acted out with poignancy that will have brought a smile of recognition or rememberance to many a listener.
Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph,01/09/2007
…Musgrave has been a Proms favourite for years and this new commission could have been tailor made, so well did it succeed. …. The basic premise of this piece is a dialogue between percussion and oboe, the two instruments physically moving closer together around the stage as the piece progressed. This is a Musgrave speciality, and contributes greatly to making the piece work…. Two’s Company is a pleasant sequence of sounds, with some bright jazzy touches…. Certainly this was a huge hit with most of the audience…. Anne Ozorio. Music-Web
Anne Ozorio, MusicWeb International,01/09/2007
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