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The title refers to Dürer’s eponymous engraving; Birtwistle’s music is introverted, indeed melancholy, using the most frugal of resources. The tempo is consistently slow; in the first part, the clarinet sings a mournful melody or advances in small steps, accompanied by brief accents from the harp (which Birtwistle seems to treat like a percussion instrument at times), shrouded by the two string orchestras.
The clarinet becomes more active in the second part, its leaps large, almost hysterical, amongst the menacing sounds from the string orchestras; their two, extremely short outbursts have the effect of earthquakes. The clarinet’s only rapid passage occurs in the work’s cadenza, before harp chords bring the piece to its close.