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Brian Elias

Publisher: Chester Music

Doubles (2009)
Commissioned by the BBC
Work Notes
Commissioned by the BBC
Chester Music Ltd
Year Composed
26 Minutes
Programme Note
Brian Elias Doubles (2009)
The title of this work refers both to the way it is constructed and to the nature of its content. It is a continuous piece made up of six movements, the first three of which are ‘doubled’ in the same order by the remaining three. (In 18th century keyboard music, the French word double had a specific technical meaning, and was used to mean “a variation, particularly one in which more or less elaborate ornamentation is added to the original melody, while the supporting harmonies [i.e. the bass line] remain the same” (Grove)).

In this work, the forms of each of the first three movements are doubled by the remaining three, rather than any melodic or harmonic elements, and it is this aspect of the piece that was the driving principle in its composition. Nevertheless, most of the material for this work is stated in its first few pages, and this material is constantly varied and developed in each of the six pieces.

There is also a further play on the meaning of the title in that each double shows a different aspect of the ideas and character of its original, changing, so to speak, its nature, direction and personality. For example, the first piece starts loudly and spirals inwards towards a quiet ending while its Double, the fourth piece, starts fairly lightly and spirals outwards, increasing relentlessly in force and volume.

Doubles was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It was completed in February 2009, and lasts approximately 26 minutes.

© B.E.

  • Ensemble
    BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Tim Mirfin (bass)
    Martyn Brabbins
... 'Doubles' has the sound of a concerto for orchestra but one which never deploys an orchestral/instrumental effect for its own sake.
Geoff Diggines, Seen and Heard International,16/03/2010
Brian Elias’ Doubles was one of the most impressive pieces of orchestral music I have heard in a long time... The structure informs the course of events from below, while the surface offers a constantly evolving musical argument articulated across those large spans – and which also doubles as a concerto for orchestra of sorts and as a monumentally conceived set of variations. [...] The scoring is dense but not thick; from the start every strand of the texture is audible, with the busy and earnest endeavours of the marimba and other tuned percussion adding a glittering surface to the fantastically energetic stomping progress of the music, which lets up occasionally to admit woodwind riffs. [...] Elias’s paroxysmic orchestral writing packs a punch, with the phenomenal resourcefulness of the scoring provoking gap-jawed astonishment; among living composers I can think only of Christopher Rouse who can throw an orchestra around with this kind of virtuosity. [...]Intellectually and physically, it’s a white-knuckle ride, a thrilling experience.
Martin Anderson, Tempo,01/10/2009
By the end of this bracing, brisk-paced, vivd unfolding, we feel we have completed a significant journey.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,24/05/2009
Elias's abrasive language certainly isn't easy to unpick. But in his music there's a violent rhythmic impulse - thundered out by percussion onslaughts or snarling brass - that is thrilling and quieter passages that radiate an eerie mood. You feel that, beneath the studiously abstract title wild passions and dark tensions are churning.
Richard Morrison, The Times,19/05/2009
... a journey from storminess into a still core and then out again, but by a different route. So, a typically elusive modernist narrative, with not a trace of soul-searching. Often these narratives are so keen to be elusive that all the musical juice is sucked out; but Elias didn't fall into that trap. His piece is full of sharply defined musical images, some furiously energetic, some rivetingly sombre, like the cor anlais melody and the giant string chords which paced delicately round it.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph,18/05/2009
Opening the evening was a very secure first performance of Brian Elias's Doubles. Elias has done well with BBC commissions over the years and has repaid such faith with music lucid, highly crafted and brimful or narrative potential. A previous BBC commission, The House that Jack Built, cries out for a recording and now, so too does Doubles. Maybe NMC (which already has an Elias release in its catalogue) or Chandos could do the honours, which need be no more than issuing the tapes of the respective first performances. Lasting 28 minutes, Doubles is a major addition to the orchestral literature, and most importantly in terms of musical substance. Doubles is scored for a standard large orchestra...From the explosive beginning one is dragged into a continually eventful work in which one values the composer's microscopic attention to detail, his establishing of recognisable motifs and his 'running with them' to such absorbing effect. In six played-continuously sections (but one is more aware of an unfolding entity), the second three are 'doubles' of the first three, which is not to suggest a varied recapitulation; rather this is music which has a symphonic sweep with elements of being a 'concerto for orchestra' and for vividly suggesting a programme (one for the listener's imagination.) Whether in parading events at a terrific lick and with reserves of enerfy or entering a magical, secluded world (where we are suspended at the close), Elias's score is recognisably British, with some Americana studded in, but avoiding any tag of being 'transatlatlantic' for Elias is fiercely independent in his invention without being forbidding...Doubles is music to hear again and further explore.'
Colin Anderson, Classical Source,16/05/2009
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