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Simon Holt

Publisher: Chester Music

Troubled Light (2008)
Commissioned by the BBC
Chester Music Ltd
Year Composed
21 Minutes
Programme Note
Simon Holt Troubled Light (2008)
I read somewhere that it was Goethe who described colour as troubled light. With that in mind I decided this could be the starting point for a series of five short orchestral pieces; four orchestral sketches leading up to a final piece which uses elements from them all.

The first movement is called 'the fell of dark', which comes from a line from the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "I wake and feel . . .":

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light's delay.

The second movement, 'rudhira', takes its title from the sanskrit word for red; the first colour ever named. The piece is a flash of wild red and is the briefest of the set.

'Ellsworth' follows this, named after the great American abstract artist, Ellsworth Kelly, renowned for his painting of flat, deceptively simple, geometrical shapes which he saturates with a single colour, on occasion juxtaposing them with similar shapes in radically contrasting colours. I have taken as a starting point his painting 'Yellow relief with black' from 1993; a large, acid yellow triangle surmounted by a much smaller, black triangle. The piece follows the shape almost to the letter.

'Huye luna, luna, luna' is a line from the Lorca poem, 'Romance de la luna, luna'. It's mostly scored for the string section, although there is some vestigial use of timpani, percussion and harp. The poem tells of a moment when the moon, in all her starched whiteness, takes a child by the hand and they fly across the sky together.

The words 'Mehr Licht' (more light) are reputed to be the final utterance of Goethe himself. This, the last movement, is by far the longest of the five and is an attempt, on one level, to draw the various elements of the whole piece together.

Simon Holt, 9th June 2008

they showed greater mettle in the gnomic fancy and brilliance of Simon Holt's Troubled Light, a Proms commission. The orchestral medium has only recently become Holt's friend, and he is still in the grip of the lover's swoon. Wide ranging textures jostle or get punctured by bass drum thumps; only in the final five minutes are elements co-ordinated and threads tied. The jagged diversity is arresting; appropriate, too, given the title's poaching of Goethe's description of colour. A welcome new piece.
Geoff Brown, The Times,28/07/2008
Simon Holt's kaleidoscopic new piece, Troubled Light, which was given its première on Friday by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Thierry Fischer, homed in on the intriguing question about the relationship between sound and colour. Colour, or at least our aural perception of it, is one of the crucial components of music, and the five short movements of Holt's piece take their cue from different shades of it. Holt explicitly describes one of the movements of Troubled Light as being "a flash of wild red"; another is conceived as "acid yellow". We regularly draw on the language of the visual arts to describe the effect of music, so Holt's practice is not unusual. Here he derives stimuli both from poetry and from painting, with varied connotations of colour. The way he deploys instrumental timbres and creates mixes of sound conjures up, with his customary imagination, a compact score that is at once multi-faceted, ear-catching and clearly focused.
Geoffrey Norris, The Telegraph,28/07/2008
The new piece is typically full of discomfitingly strange sounds - instruments at the extremes of their ranges; dislocated rhythms; sudden frantic outbursts of dense-packed strings - that somehow cohere into a unique sound world. The work begins and ends with Goethe, whose description of colour as "troubled light" provides the overall title, and whose reputed last words "Mehr Licht" (More Light) provide the title of the fifth and last movement. And the pieces in between also have associations with colours. The opening movement, The Fell of Dark, takes its title from a Gerard Manley Hopkins peom, while the brief second, Rudhira, comes from the Sanskrit word for red. Ellsworth, the third, is inspired by a painting by the American abstractionist Ellsworth Kelly, and the fourth Huye Luna, Luna, Luna returns to a favourite Holt source, Lorca. Yet those multi-layers of allusion are less important than the immediacy and physicality of the music and the sheer originality of its images, which haunt the mind so persistently.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,28/07/2008
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