About the Music
From Morning to Midnight (NMC D116)
The first full-length disc from David Sawer, featuring the greatest happiness principle for orchestra, ensemble works Tiroirs and The Memory of Water, and a specially-arranged orchestral suite taken from Sawer’s opera From Morning to Midnight, heard here for the first time.
The disc features the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, conducted by Martyn Brabbins and Susanna Malkki.
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"Though the most substantial work in this collection is the 'symphonic' suite that the composer extracted from his opera, From Morning to Midnight, ... the other pieces, all from the late 1990s, show the unfailing originality and distinctiveness of everything David Sawer composes. The chamber orchestral Tiroirs is a sequence of razor-sharp images, each perfectly scored and imagined, and shuffled with a conjuror's virtuosity; The Memory of Water, for string orchestra and a pair of solo violins whose spatial relationship steadily shifts through the course of the piece, is a compelling musical flux that Sawer likens to a flowing river from which ideas emerge only to be submerged again."
The Guardian 2007
is the purity and precision of David Sawer’s music
that immediately capture the ear, the restlessly shifting, twinkling, swirling
surfaces of his always glittering streams of sound.
after only a moment or two, one realises that beneath the immediacy of the
changing surfaces of this music, in the darker, colder, more slowly moving
water down below, there are strange shadows, shapes that remind us of a
different kind of meaning altogether.
alluring purity of Sawer’s vision springs in the first place from the sharpness
of his ear, and especially from the way in which he voices even the simplest
ideas always in ways that make them speak. Listening to these pieces, one is
sometimes brought startlingly close to the sources of the sound, the grainy feel
of bow on strings, or the flutter of breath and reed. This composer never lets
the listener forget how music is played.
is a striking purity also in the material of his music, in the melodic,
harmonic and rhythmic tesserae of which it is made. When critics speak about
Sawer they sometimes invoke jazz and Stravinsky. But although it is easy to see
how his music could not exist without these important inspirations, it really
does not sound like them. If you cut open a single harmony in one of Sawer’s
pieces with a knife, you would find a split second of cool transparency, much
simpler than a chord by Ellington, Gil Evans or Stravinsky.
shows us that Sawer’s apparent simplicity is less than simple is not the
music’s vertical sound in any given moment but the mercurial and unpredictable
ways that this composer finds to make his very different ideas tumble
breathlessly after one another.
large part of his art is located in his often exquisite sense of timing. Things
seem to happen in Sawer’s music in real time, as we listen to them, and almost
never – as in the music of so many other composers of our day – because of the
operation of some metamusical calculation beyond what we can necessarily
when one thing follows another, what comes next is frequently quite unexpected.
So we end up listening as we listen to a story, straining our ears forwards,
wondering what will happen in a bar or two.
himself has noted that his approach to composition is rooted in drama. ‘I am a
theatre person’, he says. And naturally he has written a good deal of music
really for the theatre. There is a full-length opera From Morning to Midnight, an
operetta Skin Deep, music to accompany silent film, music to accompany silent theatre,
music for actors and instrumentalists to play together.
there are also many of his compositions that take elements of theatricality and
reimagine them in purely musical terms. In his early orchestral piece, Byrnan Wood, such
musical theatricality explains itself by being linked to an exceedingly
familiar story from the closing pages of ‘Macbeth’. In other later works,
including the greatest
happiness principle and the exuberantly laconic
Piano Concerto for Rolf Hind we are left more mysteriously to our own imaginative devices
as the music enacts dramatic happenings to which we are given no such
is a quality of drama that it resists confession. We do not go to ‘Hamlet’ or
‘Otello’ to hear about their authors’ private feelings, but to witness the clash
and play of contradictory characters and forces.
perhaps tells us something about the darker shapes and shadows below the
surface of David Sawer’s music. When actors act, the meaning of what they do –
the shapes and shadows, as it were – is found not in the person of each
individual performer but in the ‘empty’ space between the performers and behind
bright and playful musical ideas that dance across the entrancing surfaces of
so many of Sawer’s scores are like actors. And when we start to listen to them
attentively, we begin to sense the darker world that lies behind them and