Nigel Osborne: The Sun of Venice

Nigel Osborne The Sun of Venice
The Sun of Venice

Nigel Osborne: The Sun of Venice

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for orchestra
Nigel Osborne
3 3 3 3 - 3 3 2 1 - perc(3) - 2 hp, cel, pno - str - 2 groups
Instrumentation details:
3(1. also picc., 2. also alto-, 3. also bass fl.) 3(3. also c.a) 3(1. also Eb-, 3. also bass cl.) 3(3. also cbsn.) - 3 3 2 1 - perc.(3) - 2 hp., cel., pno. - str. - concert group 1: horn solo - cl. - perc. - vln., vla., vc. concert group 2: drum
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Work introduction

The Sun of Venice was inspired in some respects by Turner’s painting of Venice, and in particular four watercolours and three oil paintings.

The work is played without a break, but may be thought of as five movements relating to the paintings in the following way:

1. Looking eastwards towards the Campanile of St Mark’s: sunrise (watercolour c. 1840)

2. Ceremony of the Doge Marrying the Sea (oil on canvas c. 1835). The Sun of Venice going to Sea (oil on canvas 1843)

3. The Interior of St Mark’s (a) and (b) (watercolours, both 1833)

4. Campo Santo (oil on canvas 1842)

5. The Campanile of St Mark’s: Lightning (watercolour 1833)

Turner was preoccupied with what he called “aerial” colour, or spectral light refracted through qualities of atmosphere and elevation of the sun. Venice, with its southern light and expanses of calm, shallow water became both the prism and reflecting mirror for Turner’s most astounding “aerial” studies.

Some of the most extraordinary musical sound may be compared to refraction or the illusion of refraction. We can think of a bell or a Javanese gong, for example, as both its own lifght and its own prism. We hear a fundamental tone, but it refracts many other partials, or elusive half-heard notes, in an auro of “acrial” sound.

The Sun of Venice takes the idea of the tragic city as a musical prism and mirror. All harmony and movement of melody, for example, is derived from the “aerial” sound of the bells of St. Mark’s, not just their fundamental pitches, but all the complexes of overtones, at times spacious and transparent, at times dense to the point of noise.

There is also a Venetian dimension to the layout of the instruments, beyond the main body of the orchestra there are two soloists (horn and trumpet) and two choirs of instruments in the manner of Gabrieli, whose music I believe was not merely concerned with effects of call and response, but with the illusion of reflection and the profound research of acoustics and space.

Nigel Osborne

World première

London (GB)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Nigel Osborne

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