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Var. I : Linking

Var. II : Floating

Var. III : Reflecting

This gentle 13-minute piece wrote itself in a relatively short space of time towards the end of 2013, arising from sketches made for its final variation some months earlier.  It is in one continuous movement consisting of 3 large variations on shared melodic and harmonic material, much of the former based on Hebrew chant-lines, perhaps echoing maternal family origins of one of its dedicatees.  The shape and gentle lyricism of the 3 variations arose as a response to 3 wonderful sculptures by Susie MacMurray, respectively A mixture of Frailties, Echo and Icon.

Linking presents the linear material in a texture of interactive counterpoint focussed around middle C.  Unobtrusively, the number seven seems to play an important role in the broad rhythmic structure, conditioning among other things the timed appearance of this focal pitch.  The tempo increases steadily until after the climax-point, remaining steady thereafter.  At the end of the variation, the oboe attempts to disrupt things by singing out a high C# – the pitch towards which the upper lines have been gently heading anyway, phase by phase.

In Floating there is indeed a radical change, though not thanks to the oboe.  Now, the linear material is all assembled vertically into rich, still, six-part character-chord sequences, which appear to float in silent space.  Their upper (and many of their inner) lines are simply those we have heard in different presentations already.  However, the oboe is not satisfied, and attempts to direct proceedings, via its high C# focal pitch.  What its increasingly rich interruptions in fact do is to bring gentle but necessary tension, which intensifies the emotional impact of these clouds of harmony.  Towards the end, the oboe appears to relax into conformity, and another solo line, that of the viola, gently steers matters back towards the centre, preparing us for:

Reflecting, which in many ways does what it says, revisiting the ground made familiar in the earlier variations but showing it in a more emotionally-intense light, with more integration between counterpoint and harmony.   Now it is the viola who, from within, controls the overall shape, much as the middle C in Linking held everything in focus. It engages in expressive dialogues with the upper wind instruments, whilst the remaining strings and the bass clarinet provide gentle harmonic support.  Points of maximum tension in both Linking and Assembling are met and surpassed, so this movement can effectively be regarded as the development section of the whole, with a gentle hint of recapitulation and a full resolution in the final bars.

TRIPTYCH is dedicated in huge gratitude to the first friends the composer made on arriving in Manchester 40 years ago: Avril Schepens, distinguished violist, and her gentle husband Tim Wright, in whose memory the third variation was initially written.  Avril and Tim were a great support in the face of unexplained, sometimes obscene hostility with which some listeners greeted progressive new music in Manchester at the time.  The Northern Chamber Orchestra, directed by Nicholas Ward, gave the first performance, in Macclesfield in December 2014.


13 minutes

Northern Chamber Orchestra dir. Nicholas Ward, Macclesfield, December 2014

1 Flute(=alto flute in G), 1 Oboe, 1 Bass Clarinet in B-flat, 6 Violins, 2 Viola, 2 Violoncello, 1 Double bass
Composition date


6 December 2014 Macclesfield Heritage Centre Northern Chamber Orchestra, cond. Nicholas Ward