Concerto for Violin and
String Quartet (2006);
Concertino - Quasi Variazione for Oboe, String Orchestra and Timps (2006);
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
in E minor(2002-03)
Since the age of 18, or so, I’ve written many pieces of music as gifts
for friends, even dreaming up the title Music to Measure as the
banner under which they have been presented. Somehow, though,
I’ve never managed to compose anything for my parents, Arthur
and Helen. On December 17th, 2003 they would be celebrating 50
years of marriage - their Golden Anniversary - and this seemed to
be a perfect opportunity to atone for this oversight.
so long, however, and acknowledging that such an anniversary is
an incredible milestone, it seemed inconceivable that I could
present a short song or chamber piece, and so, in February of
2002, I embarked upon the planning of an ambitious piece: a
Why a Violin Concerto, and why - indeed - so frankly tonal
and romantic? Well, my parents have been married for 50 years
and I have been their son for 44 of those, so it’s a long story, and I
will endeavour to explain it as best as I can.
As a child, I can recall the Jonathan household being alive
with music of many kinds, Motown, Calypso, Jazz and Classics.
My father always had a soft spot for music for Violin and
Orchestra, in particular Saint Saens’ Introduction and Rondo
Capriccioso. We spent many hours listening to, discussing and
comparing performances of the Concerto repertoire - Mendelssohn,
Bruch, Sibelius - invariably coming to the conclusion that Heifetz
I can half-remember a conversation, following a
performance of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto when we
mused on what a Rachmaninoff Violin Concerto might have
sounded like, and what a pity it was that he had never composed
one. I also, much more vividly, recall the day when my father
expressed his disappointment that he could not write music down.
His head, apparently, was full of beautiful music, and he was
convinced that it was simple mechanics that prevented him from
composing a Violin Concerto. So, many are the seeds that sowed
this idea in my head.
As for my mother, she is a plain-speaking, (occasionally
brutally) honest person. She has long acknowledged my talent - I
can remember about twenty-odd years ago she went to her school
fete and brought back something for me she had made at a stall: a
badge with a picture of a piano keyboard and the words Patrick -
At last, I realised that there was someone who really
understood me! But when she began to give me books, as presents,
all about failure and rejection I began to hope that it was she, and
not I, who had lost the plot. Then, a couple of years ago, she looked
me in the face while we were listening to a CD of my music and
said, “Patrick, I think you’re very talented, but I don’t like the
music you write!” Most creative individuals would have shrugged
this off by thinking, “What does she know?” But, just as I’ve tried
to persuade her that modern artists paint as they do through
choice and not because they can’t do it realistically, the seed was
now sown to show her that I choose to compose music that sounds
as mine generally does, and not because I cannot write tunefully
The episode with my mum is the one that really directed me
to the style of the piece. It had not only to be tonal, but
predominantly diatonic: traditional, if you please. As I began to
come up with themes (the first that I actually used in the finished
piece was composed on July 16th, 2002) there was a constant
frisson as I had to debate with myself whether I could actually use
something so singable. Hand in hand with the composition of the
piece I embarked on a detailed study of all the key works from the
repertoire, to ensure that the form, style and figuration would
enable my piece to sit confidently within the genre. Such study,
clearly influenced the music I wrote, but I feel that I studied so
diversely that the Concerto definitely sounds like it belongs to me,
and is not a pastiche.
Having decided what I was about to embark on, I needed to
come up with a compositional scheme that would make the piece
belong to my parents - in some sense be about them - and not
simply an excuse for me to lock myself away for a year to write
something for my own edification. Having decided this, I was
equally convinced that I did not want the piece to be
programmatic. I definitely did not want to depict scenes from the
marriage of Arthur and Helen. The piece had to be essentially
abstract and yet dedicated to my parents in more than just name. I
decided to use musical cyphers, a technique I had used before, but
one that needed to be thought about deeply if it were not to have a
merely incidental effect on the finished piece.
Musical cyphers have been in currency for a long time. In The Art of Fugue J.S. Bach embedded his name by using the BACH
motif: in German notation B = Bb and H = B. Liszt had written
organ pieces based on these notes. Schumann and Berg had both
used the technique, and - towards the end of his life -
Schostakovitch had embedded his musical cypher DSCH in many
In practical terms I had the notes BAGA - for Helen and
Arthur’s Golden Anniversary - to play with. These are the four
notes that begin the piece in the woodwind, and act as an
articulating motif at all structural junctures in the first movement.
By rephrasing the occasion as Arthur and Helen’s Golden
Anniversary, the Golden Anniversary of Helen and Arthur, and the
Golden Anniversary of Arthur and Helen I afforded myself three
more motifs: ABGA, GABA and GAAB, which are exploited at
various points in the score.
These four notes provided me with a rich source of motivic
material to construct themes. This, however, was not enough, as I
wanted the whole structure to be an expression of the cypher. I
decided to embed them as tonalities - points of modulation - within
the structure. How to achieve this and make it audible was the
question, and the solution grew naturally out of my desire to be
diatonic and ‘traditional’. In classical sonata form, movements
modulate to the Dominant (in Major key) or Relative Major (in
minor key). Therefore in a work in E minor, with the second and
third movements in D Major and E Major respectively, one would
expect the 1st Movement 2nd Subject to be in G Major, the 2nd
Movement 2nd Subject to be in A Major and the 3rd Movement
2nd Subject to be in B Major. How fortuitous that these three keys
G, A and B should be present in our cypher, you might think, but I
wanted the modulations to make their structural point - to draw
attention to themselves - so I shuffled them.
modulates to A Major for its 2nd Subject, Movement 2 to B Major
and Movement 3 (a rondo) to G Major and A Major/minor for its 2
episodes: Arthur and Helen’s Golden Anniversary!
While avoiding a definite programme, I have fashioned music
that is broadly suggestive of my parents. One of my most abiding
images of them is watching them take to the dance floor. They have
an electricity and fluidity that means they dominate any ballroom
or party. The music in this Concerto often aspires to the quality of
the waltz, even - strangely enough - at some points in the finale
that are notated in duple time!
My final comment concerns something I once read arguing
that Mozart was a more successful concerto composer than Haydn
because of his skills as an operatic composer. The concerto should,
perhaps, have the quality of an operatic aria. I have endeavoured to
include some themes suggestive of Italianate arias, and hope that
my father and mother will at some stage sing along with them.
On several occasions I had attempted to begin teaching my daughter, Leela, to play the piano, and, although initially keen, she had always been resistant, arguing that when I played I rampaged up and down the keyboard, not merely twiddling my fingers on the white notes near the middle.
Then, at Easter-time in 1999, when she was aged eight, she truly got bitten by the bug. Visiting friends in Sydney, Australia, she was impressed by the way her friend, Jake, played and began copying him and then composing her own tunes.
Upon our return to K.L. I began teaching her again, this time using a freedom technique in which she played black note clusters all over the keyboard or pentatonic runs in different configurations, as well as picking out, for instance, all the Ds on the keyboard with the middle finger of her right or left hand. She became passionately driven to learn, practicing at every given opportunity.
We have a digital piano in our living room which she was able to play, while using headphones, without disturbing us and one Saturday morning, after about two months of lessons, I happened upon her practicing and, as I couldnt hear the sounds she was making, it appeared, as she rampaged up and down over the black notes of the piano, that she was playing an epic Russian piano concerto, perhaps Tchaikovskys First.
I decided there and then to compose a small, yet epic concerto in the Russian style for her, and actually completed most of the work over that very weekend. I then recorded the orchestral parts, in an almost improvisatory manner, using a Yamaha Clavinova, and produced a CD and a piano score.
It seemed to me that at some stage I needed to produce a full score, and develop some sections that I felt were glossed over during the initial, feverish inspiration of the pieces creation. Having finally got round to finishing it off, this score is the result and is dedicated, with love, to my daughter, Leela.
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