Mr. Leary's mechanical Maggot

for string orchestra (violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, bass)
3 mins.

Written in 1997 for the string ensemble of Ampleforth College, near York

Programme note

This little piece for strings was written in 1997 for Bill Leary and the string ensemble of Ampleforth College, near York. It lasts about three minutes, and consists of a five-bar ground bass which rises by a semitone on each repetition until, after sixty bars, it reaches the octave above; whereupon it is turned upside-down. The process is repeated in inversion – the pitch sinking one semitone on each repetition of the ground – until, after another sixty bars, the home keynote of G is arrived at. A short and thrilling coda rounds off the piece. In sixteenth century English the word ‘maggot’ was used to mean “a whimsical or perverse fancy” (Oxford English Dictionary definition) – mechanical, in this case, because of the way the ground bass rises and falls through an octave.

Giles Swayne 2008