Sehnsucht: for chamber ensemble

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


Musical Composition for flute, clarinet, piano, vibraphone, viola and cello

First performances:
Hermes Ensemble, University of Birmingham
Manson Ensemble, Royal Academy of Music, London
Juilliard Ensemble, Juilliard, New York

Underpinning Research
The title is a richly allusive German word pointing towards the quality of ‘yearning’, but also with the added sense of a desire for something that can never quite be reached, which we might call ‘home’ or a ‘point of origin’. This psychological complex, which is also fluid – desire is always shifting – is one that maps well into a musical ebb-and-flow. And part of the research here is the ongoing compositional arena of looking for piece-specific musical materials, motions and textures that can capture as keenly as possible such emotional ‘extra-musical’ ideas.

At the same time, the individual approach of the piece is set inside a broader research orbit, both in relation to my previous (and future) works, and also, more generalisable ideas to do with the development of a musical language for the 21st century. The aspects of this are three-fold:
1) The expansion of the means of, and therefore definition, of tonality. What, the piece asks, is a musical ‘centre’ or ‘pole’? How, it follows this, can the notion of relationships to that centre be ‘stretched’? Can atonal or ‘vagrant’ musical passages still be considered in terms of the global architecture of a work, tonal? Where is the breaking point for this?
2) The conscious use (or even manipulation) of tonal elements to invoke ‘past’ musical styles, idioms and ‘types’. In previous works of mine, reference to the past has been explicit through the use of quotation of fragments of music from the works of others. Here, no actual quotation is used, yet the allusions to previous music comes in the distinct ‘cut’, contour, colour and weave of the musical materials. Can there be, the piece asks, a rich discourse that complements and enriches the content of pitch relations as in no.1, through carefully woven ‘style allusions’? Can the expressive core idea of ‘Sehnsucht’ be embodied as much in the relations of style and idiom as in the ‘abstract’ musical materials?
3) The placement of formal ‘climaxes at unusual points, with the intention of pushing the listener to re-assess notions of the convention of musical climax. By placing the biggest climax a third into the piece rather than at a conventional two-thirds point, the piece’s centre of gravity is shifted. In so doing I wish to investigate how the piece’s duration could be subjectively perceived as considerably longer than its clock-time length. How much the piece asks, can a work’s projection of ‘expressive weight’ be affected by the placing of climax points within a structure?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • musical composition
  • time
  • timbre


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