Ein Fremder im fremden Land

Cello Sonata No. 1 (2013 – 2014)

Duration: c. 20 minutes

1. Two Preludes

2. Dialogue de l’ombre single

3. Adagio in Zemlinskys gebrochenes Handschrift

4. Una galleria di sette scherzi

5. Poesia rappresentativo

The title of this five-movement cello suite- ‘A stranger in a strange land’ comes from the text of Alexander Zemlinsky’s rapturous Lyric Symphony. The odd- numbered movements are portraits of Zemlinsky, his music and his aesthetics. The first movement is made of two contrasting preludes, one freely glittering in the top register and the other growing organically from the bottom. 

The second movement sees the cello and piano frustratingly unable to sound anything at the same time, constantly and inescapably taking it in turns to find a way through an unstable labyrinth of gestures. The ‘single shadow’ of the title refers to my very un-Boulezian attempt to refrain from polyphony and maintain the illusion of just one highly eccentric line being performed. 

The third movement is an imaginary scene where all the major works of Zemlinsky’s prime period- from the Maeterlinck songs through the two Expressionist operas, second String Quartet and Lyric Symphony- are swirling around in his head. His ‘broken handwriting’ barely holds together this plangent cornucopia of ideas.

Next, the fourth movement is a ‘gallery’ of seven scherzi, each a variation on a single chord. They are miniaturised yet incomplete, always requiring the next scherzo to ‘finish’. Several are newly distorted versions of other music in the piece, though the floating final scherzo leads directly into the fifth movement. The heading on this finale is ‘My lamp to light your way’, the final line of the Lyric Symphony. Here I imagine the cello’s continuous song finding repose and possibly the smallest comfort after the difficulties of the rest of the piece. 

Commissioned by Timo-Veikko Valve

Listen to the complete work performed by Timo-Veikko Valve & Jack Symonds

Score samples here


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