Sir Harrison Birtwistle: Silbury Air

Sir Harrison Birtwistle Silbury Air
Silbury Air

Sir Harrison Birtwistle: Silbury Air

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for chamber ensemble
Sir Harrison Birtwistle
1 1 1 1 - 1 1 1 0 - perc(1), hp, pno, str(1 1 1 1 1)
Instrumentation details:
flute (+picc
alto fl)
oboe (+c.a)
clarinet in Bb (+bass cl(Bb))
horn in F
trumpet in C
percussion (1 player)
1st violin
2nd violin
Commissioned by The Koussevitzky Music Foundation in The Library of Congress for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Centre to honour the centenary of the birth of Serge Koussevitzsky
Dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzsky
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Silbury Air

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

Silbury Air is named after Silbury Hill, a prehistoric mound in Wiltshire, the biggest artificial mound in Europe, being 125 feet high and covering more than five acres. Its use and purpose, after centuries of speculation, still remain a mystery. The music of the Air is not in any way meant to be a romantic reflection of the hill's enigmatic location – nor a parallel with any of its evident geometry. Seen from a distance the hill presents itself as an artificial but organic intruder on the landscape. I have often alluded to my music of landscape presenting musical ideas through the juxtaposition and repetition of “static blocks” of, preferable for my terminology, objects. These objects themselves being subjected to a vigorous invented logic via modes of juxtaposition, modes of repetition, modes of change. The sum total of these processes is a compound artificial landscape or “imaginary” landscape, to use Paul Klee's title.

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

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World première

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (GB)
London Sinfonietta
Elgar Howarth

Press reviews

“No British composer today has a more distinctive voice than Harrison Birtwistle. The measured period, the blocks of sound, the processional intensity all make for instant identification, a composer who goes his own way relentlessly and in his own time. His latest work, Silbury Air, given its first performance by the London Sinfonietta under Elgar Howarth, is another is his sequence of landscape works, but it presents a striking new development.

Landscape music suggests slowness, but here Birtwistle’s imagination has used the idea of Silbury Hill and its prehistoric associations as a starting point for a vigorous and eventful fifteen minute piece, full of sharp motoric rhythms that (until the very end) tend to accelerate.

The result is dramatic and immediately exciting, contradicting in its vitality the idea of static blocks of sound on which Birtwistle has usually relied, but equally showing the firmest possible architectural sense, with each section relating naturally and satisfyingly to the rest. With so much argument crammed into so relatively short a span, it is a work that cries out for early repetition.”

(Edward Greenfield, The Guardian 10.03.1977)

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