Jun 222015

‘Be still’ for harp and marimba received its first performance on 22 May in a recital given by Oli Wass (harp) and Zoë Craven (percussion).

This work is in 10 fragments and goes alongside two other fragment works, In that solitude and Be silent. Different forms of fragmentation have informed the compositional process, as the programme note explains.

Be still
2012 (rev. 2015)

This work is one of a set of three pieces built on fragmented musical material: In that solitude (2012) is written for violin and piano; Be silent (2012), for solo piano. All three works take their titles from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe:

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness – for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

from Spirits Of The Dead by Edgar Allan Poe (1827)


Be still is in ten separate fragments that come together to create a piece that may be interpreted as a disjointed whole, or in separate parts:

I: The first fragment sets the scene, with interaction between the two players varying between sections where they play as if one instrument, to moments of melodic exchange. 

II: This very short fragment for solo marimba is only a few notes of melody that seems to have been taken from something else. 

III: The harp joins in again, but still there is little more than an outline of material.

IV: The marimba takes off on a melodic path with a constant rhythm. The harp underpins this with a slow progression of two-note chords before the music suddenly fades. 

V: The harp moves through a slow and distant melodic fragment, exploring quieter sounds which the marimba tries to imitate. The instruments never quite play together as this fragmentary soundworld is conjured.

VI: Another sparse fragment sees the two instruments imitating each other, their sounds blending to create one voice.

VII: A simple melody in the harp emerges from whispering high notes, before the two parts gradually come together as a single melody at the end. This is the only completely solo harp movement of the work.

VIII: In this, the loudest and most defined fragment, a melody is batted back and forth between the two instruments as they jostle for dominance. The harp has the last word in this virtuosic and frantic display that seems to be over before it has begun.

IX: A single chords provides the basis for a highly static moment that acts like a window into another, unwritten piece.

X: The unison gesture of the very first fragment is brought back in a slow, quiet form before an enigmatic coda introduces yet another musical idea that seems incomplete.