First performed by Malu Lin and Giles Swayne at the Purcell Room, London, on 9th December 1997.
Echo was written in July 1997, in memory of a friend, composer Paul Reade, who had died – much loved, and far too young – in May of that year. It is based on a four-note phrase which opens (and closes) my much earlier piece for violin and piano, Duo (1975) which I performed frequently with Christopher Rowland during the 1970s. At the end of Duo, the opening phrase (which had been loud and dramatic on its first appearance) recurs as a whisper on the muted violin. This involves putting on a mute for the last four notes, which is a strange and rather dramatic gesture; and it occurred to me at the time that it would be interesting to take the muted idea and make something of it in a short piece which could either act as a pendant to the other or stand on its own.
The violin remains muted for the whole of Echo – except in the last two bars, which are played without mute; so the process at the end of Duo is reversed. The four-note phrase (made up of whole tones) is extended by adding a fifth note; and this – transposed and decorated in many ways – provides the thematic material of the violin part, which becomes more increasingly detailed as it develops. Against this, the piano plays a series of twelve quiet chords – or rather, twelve transpositions of one chord derived from the original four-note phrase. This chord-sequence recurs twelve times, and (from the sixth version onwards) is gradually slowed down, from ten beats to forty-five beats in length. It is also transposed through the same steps which make up in own shape. At the same time, the chords are gradually thinned out from eight notes to one (in the final version). At this point, with the original chord sequence reduced to long, bell-like notes in the bass, the piano takes the thematic material developed by the violin and gradually compresses it. Against this, the violin plays a slowed-down version, and the conjunction of compression and expansion produces the piece’s brief climax. The violin mute then comes off; and the final note (A) of the piano’s chord-sequence provides the bass for the violin’s final phrase – which is a slightly stretched version of its opening phrase.
Giles Swayne 2009
Giles Swayne, pianist, composer and wit, is a national treasure and should be paid more attention . . . Swayne’s Echo¸ a short piece written in 1997 in memory of the composer Paul Reade, was very affecting.
Tully Potter – The Strad