Dedicated to Pierre Boulez
Almost thirty years after it was composed, Earth Dances seems quite romantic; it is one of the most imposing works in the composer’s oeuvre and, indeed, all of postwar British music. Enormous masses of sound move slowly and menacingly, long sustained pitches are interrupted by lightning-like strokes – a procession, as so often with Birtwistle, or the inexorable rotation of an object – the earth?
The sonic image is made up of six layers, each with its own characteristic intervals. The instruments are divided into groups according to their common registers: violins coupled with high winds, for example. The dynamic changes constantly, as crescendi range from pp to ff.