Chansons Pyrénées, Set 1
2010. Duration 15' approx.
First performance - August 2009, Cathèdrale Sainte Marie, Oloron-Sainte-Marie, France
UK premeire - February 2010, Conway Hall, London
Chansons des Pyrénées is a set of arrangements (or, rather, elaborations) of five traditional songs that originate from the Pyrénées. The music is deliberately conservative harmonically, which acts as a solid framework for the more complex structural elements of the piece, for example the use of fragments from the original melodies which form accompanying figures.
Prelude: Les Montagnards (“The Mountain People”)
A rhythmic opening movement where the main melody is based on a C major triad. The initial fanfare-like three-four section suddenly leads into a coda, in a faster two-four time. The ending is bright and celebratory.
Pavane: La Novía (“The Bride”)
In contrast to the diatonicism of the first movement , this song is based around the Aeolian mode on C. A feature of this movement is the grouping of the wind instruments in unison melodic writing to create ‘hybrid’ timbres within a small ensemble; the piano meanwhile provides different ostinato accompaniment figures to each grouping (these combinations function as each verse of the song).
Intermezzo: Mon Doç Amic (“My Sweet Friend”)
This movement, for wind instruments only, is like a gentle ballad. Returning to standard diatonicism, this movement is the most contrapuntal in the suite. The oboe is particularly prominent here, as if recalling a rustic folk instrument from the past.
Recitative: L’autre Jorn et L’òrt (“The other day, in the garden, I heard someone crying”)
The shortest movement contains lots of homophonic writing, treating the group like a choir. The original song dates from the 14th century. The changes of time signature should suggest a quasi-improvisatory element. The harmonies are more austere, with much doubling to create chords that paint a picture of a wide landscape.
Finale: La Catalane (“The Girl from Catalonia”)
The area of Catalonia lies in the eastern region of the Pyrénées, on both the French and Spanish sides. The Spanish influence can be heard around half-way through the movement, when the accompaniments in piano, clarinet and flute imitate castanets. In a totally different character to the rest of the work this movement is more light-hearted and dance-like, leading to a humorous ending with a flourish.