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Thea Musgrave

Publisher: Novello & Co

Rainbow (1990)
commissioned by the City of Glasgow to mark the opening of the new international concert hall and to celebrate the city as cultural capital of Europe
Novello & Co Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
12 Minutes

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Programme Note
Thea Musgrave Rainbow (1990)
Rainbow is soundscape in both a literal and a figurative sense. In nature, of course, a rainbow heralds the end of a storm and the reappearance of the sun. Rainbow begins with a quiet expressive oboe solo accompanied by a sustained A major chord (representing the sun), soon to be overwhelmed by the approaching storm which erupts violently in a fast tumultuous section.

Eventually the storm dies away and the rainbow appears; a lyrical theme accompanied by three major chords (the three primary colours of the spectrum: red, yellow, blue). When the rainbow fades, the sun blazes out; the A major chord accompanying the initial oboe melody, now played by all the violins. The brass adds a chorale of thanksgiving, bringing a mood of calm confident fulfillment.

Rainbow was first performed at the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow by the Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Bryden Thomson.


  • 27 OCT 2012
    Boston, MA
    New England Philharmonic
    Richard Pittman, conductor
  • 03 JUN 2009
  • 06 SEP 2008
    BBC Proms
    Royal Albert Hall, London
    Royal Scottish National Orchestra
    Stéphane Denève, conductor
  • 15 NOV 2005
    Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
    BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
    Ilan Volkov, conductor
  • 31 JAN 2003
    Concord, MA
    Concord Orchestra

The orchestra woke up and came to life with Thea Musgrave's Rainbow. Delicate, twinkling music to begin with, rushing to thrilling heights like Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy being played three times too fast. The teasing, bewitching harmony turned sour and pounded like a soft demolition ball, eliciting brief shards of light from the harp and vibraphone. ...Rainbow seemed to twitch and move like a living, conscious thing rather than a depiction of a landscape.
Stephen Crowe, Music OMH,9/9/2008
...almost Roussel-like...
Hilary Finch, The Times (London),9/8/2008
Unconsciously reflecting the more than usually atrocious weather which the UK has been suffering at this time, the concert's second half had a distinctly 'meteorological' feel to it, Composed in 1990, Thea Musgrave’s Rainbow, is a 12-minute piece for large orchestra, thoroughly approachable music with occasional overtones of Nielsen; a latter-day counterpart to the Storm in Beethoven's ‘Pastoral’ Symphony or to one of those great Turner seascapes. Seldom does one hear a contemporary piece delivered with such impact and panache.
Douglas Cooksey,,9/8/2008
...the orchestra gave a finely tuned rendition of Rainbow, a delightful, tightly bound work in which repeated motives pass round the orchestra as if refracting each tone and shade before bursting out in the bright conclusion.
Guy Dammann, The Guardian,9/8/2008
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