The story of a new work #4

“This whole work plays with ideas of how we relate to history and tradition, and so there may be more tongue-in-cheek baroque references to come…”

by Kym Dillon, 2022 Continuo Composer on 6 March, 2023


Picture: Composer’s assistant, Benson, supervising Kym’s work

Greetings, Continuo community! 

It’s high time for my next Continuo update, and I’m sorry that it’s been a while since the last one — in truth things have been ticking along nicely, although the combination of January resting as well as February madness has delayed my updating, even if it didn’t delay the composing! 

My plan was to have sent the first movement of the piece to the ensemble by the dawn of this new year, an admittedly self-imposed deadline which I met (albeit within an extra couple of days!). 

In my grand scheme for this piece, the first movement was a substantial one of between 7 – 10 mins composed for the whole ensemble, which would then kick off a series of smaller vignette-like movements that feature sub-combinations of players: duos, trios, solos and the like. As I think I’ve said in a previous update, I find first movements take the longest to write, since they’re akin to laying the foundations for a building — you want it to set things up well for later! 

The plan of sending a substantial movement to the ensemble early on in the process, while I continue to work on further movements, was intended so that I could get feedback in some form as I was going. As I’ve said before, writing for these instruments puts me on somewhat unfamiliar ground, and the more you can hear back from ideas you’re trying out the more informed you’ll be as you continue onwards. Due to their own hectic schedules the ensemble hasn’t yet had a chance to get together to rehearse this movement, but hopefully that will happen soon. Waiting for this is always a nervous time for a composer — no matter how much experience you obtain and how much you learn to trust your honed intuitions, making something new (particular for unfamiliar instruments) always requires some amount of risk-taking, and you eagerly await some sign from on high that you’re intuitions are still sufficiently tuned… 

This movement took a fair while to write, and is quite packed with some rather wacky ideas, including a couple of parodies from a famous Bach cantata (including some singing from the ensemble!). This whole work plays with ideas of how we relate to history and tradition, and so there may be more tongue-in-cheek baroque references to come…

I have attached some photos of my pencil-sketching for this piece (sometimes I merely sketch ideas, sometimes I write out entire sections exactly as they’ll appear in the score), and then some of the score itself as it turned out. The left handwritten score page is more an example of sketching, and the right one is a case where I wrote everything out exactly. The two printed pages I’ve photographed represented how these two sections turned out (though admittedly I haven’t taken them too close up — I don’t wish to give the game away!) 

In my own listening I’ve also been submerging myself in all kinds of baroque music — not so as to imitate, but rather to hear and absorb how these instruments act within that context. Not every composer finds this kind of thing helpful, but I certainly do, particularly as I’m playing with baroque references and ideas in this work. 

The practical details for the premiere are still being worked out, but again this is looking to be in late October. 

In my next update I hope to share that I’ve finished some of the next few movements and how this has gone, hopefully in around a month’s time!