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Formally, this piece is multifaceted, rich and emotionally imbued with strong contrasts. Constructs of fierce, passionate Nature alternate with expressions of quietude, pensively elegiac, at times harshly and suddenly juxtaposed, along with gestures (most of them emphasised by dynamics) initiating a process leading continuously toward new, altered situations.
The work is subdivided into four sections, although only the third section is separated from the previous one by a long general rest; the other sections are interwoven. The piece is so polynomial that it defies detailed description – and yet I would like to pick out two sections, if only to provide an idea of the events.
The second part (seen in terms of the large formal overview) actually consists of two different pieces, the first, faster one featuring for the most part four instruments in motion against the background of a simple line in the violas. The motion of each of the instruments is equal in its duration, but that duration differs from one instrument to the next. Thus four different tempi are played simultaneously, the notated metre obscured, although the bassoon and the violas occasionally provide a glimpse of the basic metre at the outset. Many may find the idiosyncratically cloven sound disconcerting; I think it has much character.
The second, calmer “piece” begins with the oboe leading, accompanied as it were by figures in the harp, vibraphone, marimba, with crotales and bells joining later on. Then the two “pieces” are divided into small sections, blended so that one section from the second “piece” always follows a section from the first one. Two quaver chords in the winds signal the beginning of each section from the calmer second “piece,” whereas a pizzicato chord heralds the beginning of a portion from the faster part. The result of melding structures which are completely static per se is very clear, despite all complexity – or so I hope.
The work’s fourth and last section is relatively simple; 16 sustained wind chords (each separated from the next by rests) constitute the basis. The first one is played triple pianissimo; the others are progressively longer and louder, until the last one, which is very long and fortissimo. The rests become longer, too, but not to the same extent as the wind chords themselves – they belong to the percussion, which begins in the opposite way, starting fortissimo and ending piano, the density reducing to a clearer sound at the close.
The strings form a third layer, playing mostly piano and tremolo sul ponticello, whereby at the beginning they are covered by the fortissimo percussion in the rests between the wind chords; only toward the end does their motion return, gradually broadening and in crescendo.
Although the overall complexity of the serial events is structurally important on one level of the musical design, extensive explanations are at most tangential to the actual listening experience.
This piece was commissioned by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which premiered it on 13 April 1996 in one of its subscription concerts, conducted by André Previn.