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Elizabeth Maconchy

Publisher: Chester Music

Epyllion (1975)
Commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed
14 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Elizabeth Maconchy Epyllion (1975)
EPYLLION for solo cello and strings

EPYLLION IS A Greek short for epic. I have chosen to suggest that, like an epic poem, this piece of events of widely varied character. They are, however, purely musical events.

The strings are sometimes treated as soloists and at others as a group. The solo cello is highlighted all the way, but as the leading character in the cast rather than a concert soloist.

The work falls into four sections. The first is framed with dark sonorous, reiterated chords, low-pitched, with glissandi in harmonics for violins.

The central point is more rhapsodic: expressive lyrical phrases for the soloist are offset by more vigorous passages, and there are two “free” sections, the strings playing independently of each other and of the soloist.

Next comes a scherzo, quite brief, very lightly scored, much of it pizzicato. A Lento follows-lyrical in feeling and mainly contrapuntal in texture, with long interlacing lines; it includes on the way several solo passages for the cello.

The final section opens with a climbing passage in trills for all the strings. It grows vigorously, though the cello now and then harks back to earlier expressive ideas. Towards the end the dark reiterated chords of the opening return (plus the violin harmonics) and finally combine with the climbing passage in trills to end the work.

EPYLLION was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival and first performed at the Town Hall on 13 July 1975 by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields with Kenneth Heath, cello, and conducted by Neville Marriner.

Elizabeth Maconchy 1975

  • Ensemble
    Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim
    Raphael Wallfisch cello
    William Boughton
Maconchy’s Epyllion was new to me and is a real find: in effect a four-movement concerto in a single linked span, it is bracing, often surprisingly advanced in idiom, and can only advance the growing posthumous reputation of a composer who was often more adventurous than is sometimes assumed.
Piers Burton-Page, International Record Review,01/02/2008
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