The first in a trilogy of works for chamber orchestra, the Sinfonia Concertante uses its forces very much in concerto fashion - and not least its timpanist, who signals the work to start and has a real melodic role at the start of the finale.
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The SINFONIA CONCERTANTE was written in 1982 and is my first attempt at a form related to the concerto. The displays of technical virtuosity for the soloists – flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn – are closer to the eighteenth than to the nineteenth century, but nonetheless make extremely heavy demands on the players’ dexterity and musicality. However, there are no cadenzas as such.
To the accompanying string band I added timpani – mainly for the sake of their dramatic power, at the conclusion of the second movement, for instance, or very early in the third.
The work opens with an introductory slow ‘quest’ for the home tonality of D minor, flute and oboe exchanging scraps of melodic figurations which make the basic melodic and harmonic building-blocks for the whole structure, over a gradually stabilising bass line.
The strings take over at the D minor cadence and this section, until the horn entry, confirms and extends the previous flute and oboe material’s relation to this tonality and prefigures the tonal area and isorhythmic parameters to be developed later, although it may all be heard at the same time as a transition to the ‘allegro’ proper, starting with the 7/8 horn solo.
For a first hearing it should be useful to identify the horn solo as first subject material and the bassoon solo as second subject; the development starts with the clarinet entry and there is a brief recapitulation (disguised as a transition but with the horn pointing its true identity). This background of sonata processes is, however, only a framework of reference for processes of transformation and substitution of material more closely related to pre-classical forms and to modality rather than to the tonality particular to ‘ real’; sonata-development.
The ‘adante’ starts with long melodic lines divided between oboe and flute over slowly changing harmonies, with rhythmic definition provided by string pizzicati. The relationship to the opening of the first movement is mean to b clear- this ‘andante’ may be regarded as slow ‘double’ of that whole movement.
The finale starts with an introduction for the five ‘ concertante’ soloists; as the opening ‘allegro’ had a sonata-form background, so this one has a rondo background, providing brilliant display material for each of the wind in turn. After the ‘rondon’ has run its course, there is a short transition (pizzicato strings, with bassoon and horn) winding down to a sequence of bell-like chords (some with string pizzicato) bridging to a coda which underlines the central D minor. The ending could have been brilliant and loud; after much deliberation I chose something else, which, I hope, makes convincing poetic sense.
SINFONIA CONCERTANTE was commissioned by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The first performance was given on 12 August 1983 at the Royal Albert Hall, London at a BBc Promenade Concert. Neville Marriner conducted the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
© Peter Maxwell Davies 1982