Four Inky Sketches


Duration: 10 minutes

1) Chamber Orchestra (2221, alto sax., 2210, euph., perc. (4 players), timp., strings)

First performed by Bedford School Prep Schools Festival Orchestra/Charles Martin, Bedford School, Bedford, 20.6.00

2) Piano Quartet (vn, vla, vc, pno)

First performed by Bedford School Piano Quartet, Bedford School, Bedford, 22.5.02

Programme Note

This piece was commissioned for an orchestra of young players whose average ability was from Grade 2 to Grade 5. I had two aims in writing this piece: first to encourage the development of players’ ensemble skills, by giving them independent parts which forced them to listen to other players, work out their position in the texture and watch the conductor; and to give young players a gentle introduction to musical features of the twentieth century, such as irregular rhythms, polyrhythm, extended harmonies and more colourful orchestration than usual school music. This presented the compositional challenge of writing within the limitations of each player’s respective ability; in the earlier stages, certain keys present different levels of difficulty for, say, violin players and clarinet players. Therefore there is a lot of use of bitonal writing, for instance of G major versus B flat major in the first sketch. 

The first sketch is an antiphonal diologue between strings and wind; the involved percussion parts suggest a train journey. The second sketch is a short set of variations on a modal melody in compound time. The third and most involved sketch is a rustic allegro based around simple folk-song material, but venturing into bitonality and simple polyrhythms in places. The fourth sketch is a sort of sleepy farewell movement, with its hushed string tremolos, rich woodwind melodies and the tolling of a single tubular bell. 

The arrangement for Piano Quartet was written in Autumn 2001 and performed several times at the school by the Bedford School Piano Quartet.