3. Child’s play
Premiered by Sir Charles Groves and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on 3rd February 1976. Sir Charles Groves also gave the second performance in February 1977 with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Sir John Pritchard conducted it in the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London on 18th August 1982.
Orlando’s Music, my first orchestral piece, was written in the spring of 1974. The first performance was given at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on 3rd February 1976 by Sir Charles Groves and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. It is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 clarinets (2nd doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, piano and strings. The piece take its title from the name of my son, who was born in April 1974, and whose gestation and birth were in my thoughts while I was writing it.
The first movement, Fanfare, is a thanksgiving for the creation of life, and attempts to imitate the restless inventive power of organic growth. The listener is given little breathing-space from start to finish, but there are three brief points of repose:
1. a quiet canon for solo string sextet, which emerges from the scattered, broken music after the opening paragraph of the piece has run its course. 2. an unexpected little trio for flute, double-bass and piano, which interrupts the climax of the second paragraph. 3. a pre-echo of the Lullaby, introduced by the string sextet near the end of the movement.
A long singing note on a solo cello provides a link with the second movement, Lullaby. The opening paragraph of this consists of a simple five-note phrase, played five times in varying combinations of four pitches, with intervening comments from the string sextet. The middle paragraph unfolds on high violins and violas over a slow, insistent heartbeat. A reprise of the opening section inverts its distribution, giving the five-note phrases to the string sextet, and the intervening comments to violins and violas. It contains, woven into the texture, a long cantus firmus of the plainsong Pentecost hymn:
Veni, creator spiritus, Mentes tuorum visita, Imple superna gratia Quae tu creasti pectora.
The music then fades away until nothing remains but the heartbeat.
The last movement, Child’s Play, needs little explanation. The five-note tune which is heard immediately after the opening chords is sung by children at play in many countries, and must be extremely ancient and almost hard-wired into our genes. At the climax of this movement, the wind and brass break into a riotous ten-voice quodlibet of nursery songs. This ends (as children’s games often do) in tantrums and tears; but after a brief hiatus, play begins again.
Giles Swayne 2008
“a work of extraordinary promise… Swayne has the rare quality… of being able to sustain a kind of physical exhilaration in music.”
Gerald Larner – The Guardian
“a work of tremendous vitality and character… an abundance of possible directions, a plurality of thematic developments often occurring simultaneously… An exhilarating piece… I look forward to hearing more of Giles Swayne.”
Meirion Bowen – The Guardian