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Judith Weir

Publisher: Chester Music

Forest (1995)
commissioned by The John Feeney Charitable Trust
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
13 Minutes
Programme Note
Judith Weir Forest (1995)
I started to write this piece with nothing but the opening melody in mind. As I arranged this apparently simple material for an initial ensemble of four solo violas and cello, the intertwining lines seemed to be sprouting musical leaves; or, in other words, interesting melodic and harmonic fragments were being generated almost as if in a process of nature. After observing a few more pages of these self-propagating complications take shape, I decided on the title Forest. Nearly everything in the piece has grown from the tiny musical seeds encountered in the opening bars, and the composition has unfolded in a particularly natural and organic way.

Within the final pages, a different, more distinct world is occasionally glimpsed. Perhaps this is the forest of folklore and prehistory, rather than the animated and burgeoning biological site examined in the man part of the music. On reaching the conclusion, a region of faint string chords, I felt rather like a fairy tale character pressing deeper an deeper into a mysterious prospect of trees.

Forest was commissioned by the John Feeney Trust and written during 1995. It was first performed in December of that year by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

© Judith Weir

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    BBC Symphony Chorus / BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Ailish Tynan, soprano
    Martyn Brabbins
  • Ensemble
Weir’s 13-minute, quasi-Romantic tone poem Forest (1995) was far more satisfying, its dense tuttis and thick, reiterated harmony genuinely allowing one to imagine the large and necessarily wood-dominated orchestra as the entity of the title.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,15/09/2019
★★★★ - Another modern master, Judith Weir, wrote Forest in 1995, early in her post as Composer-in-Association to the CBSO, but this was its first performance at a Prom... Here was woodland mystery, perhaps even romance, and certainly enchantment, in less than twelve minutes. The magical opening motif is given to four solo violas and a cello, and it unfurls organically, generating elaborations often coloured by lower winds, two marimbas, and almost omnipresent horn tone, a reference maybe to the Waldhorn of German Romantic music. Even on a first hearing, this splendid piece has echoes of Sibelius’s nature music, as well as his organic processes.
Roy Westbrook,,09/09/2019
...evocative of dense foliage filled with flora and fauna...
Keith Bruce, The Herald (Glasgow),17/04/2018
Forest is simply meant to refer to the way in which she found that the “intertwining lines” of the opening passage for four solo violas and a solo cello “seemed to be sprouting musical leaves”; to refer, that is, to the time-honoured musical metaphor of organic growth. It is accurate enough in this case: the clustering leaves are certainly there even if I rarely sensed a real density of trees. Weir’s orchestration is, as ever, too precise and economical, too given to sunny musical clearings, for that. What, indeed, is most striking is the way she is able to extend those intertwining solo string patterns to a quartet of horns, and thence throughout the orchestra, without jeopardising the balance.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,01/12/1995
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