“Its opening set out a chill aural landscape, with Bray’s attention to effects – tremolando, pizzicato and wood of bow on strings – making the ear focus on detail and the way sounds hovered in clear air. … this was a piece which stirred conscience and senses together. It will sit well in the piano quartet repertoire, as it did here with Schumann’s Op 47 and, before it, Shostakovich’s Op 57 Quintet, the manifestation of conscience.”
Instrumentation violin, viola, cello, piano
First Performance 18 March 2017, Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon, UK; The Schubert Ensemble
Commissioned by The Schubert Ensemble
Recording Chamber and Solo Works (2018), RTF Classical/Nimbus Order CD here
6.11.17 Luton Music Club, UK; The Schubert Ensemble
29.11.17 The Sage Gateshead, UK; The Schubert Ensemble
30.11.17 Lancaster University, UK; The Schubert Ensemble
1.12.17 Halifax, UK; The Schubert Ensemble
24.01.18 Royal Birmingham Conservatoire; The Schubert Ensemble
25.01.18 Seaton Music Club, Devon, UK; The Schubert Ensemble
7.03.18 Perth Music Society, Scotland; The Schubert Ensemble
8.03.18 Biggar, Scotland; The Schubert Ensemble
9.03.18 Glasgow, Scotland; The Schubert Ensemble
10.03.18 Stirling, Scotland; The Schubert Ensemble
11.03.18 Pollok House Arts Society, Scotland; The Schubert Ensemble
12.03.18 Aberdeen, Scotland; The Schubert Ensemble
14.03.18 Ilkley Music Club, Yorkshire, UK; The Schubert Ensemble
2.05.18 Sendesaal, Bremen, Germany; Mariani Piano Quartet *German Premiere*
16.10.18 Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London; Miriani Klavierquartett
6.08.19 Lake District Summer Music, Hawkshead Parish Church, UK; Drucker Piano Quartet
14.02.20 Kleiner Saal, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Germany; Mariani Klavierquartett
Zustände was commissioned by The Schubert Ensemble in partnership with the Wiltshire Music Centre and premiered at the Wiltshire Music Centre on 18th March 2017. The commission was supported by the Schubert Ensemble Trust, the Wiltshire Music Centre, PRS for Music Foundation and the Steel Charitable Trust.
Zustände, meaning “states”, refers to the various forms of ice that inspired the piece. Whether a lone iceberg, large chunks breaking off from the fragile edge of a glacier, or the crackle of an ice field melting in the sun, the imaginary realisation of the sounds generated by the moving ice drive the conceptualisation of the piece. Its structure arises from the use of three photographs taken during a recent visit to Greenland; a single image forming the motivation behind each movement.
Brittle, splintering ice is the “state” by which the first movement finds its timbral character. Focusing on colour, I reimagined the sound of the cracking ice, slowly floating in the Sound from the face of the glacier. Techniques, including tremolo, col legno and pizzicato are utilised in the string parts to create the unique texture of the material. Slowly disintegrating in the glistening sun, sparks are heard as it cracks within, becoming weaker and ever more fragile. The feeling of being trapped- alluding to the molecules within smaller icebergs- is achieved by encapsulating the music in a high register and progressing very slowly harmonically. Active yet muted, the music is in constant motion but at an inherently slow rate.
A majestic, lone iceberg inspired the second movement, the melodic core of the work, which sees solos moving upwards through the strings, floating powerfully and majestically unaccompanied. The structure was suggested by the photographic image and shaped by the traced outline of the iceberg itself. By analogy, smooth and freely sculpted by the wind, the music is supported by a secure steady base, resonating in the chunky block chords of the piano in the later part of the movement.
Varied and unpredictable, the final movement is located within the highly energised, at times threatening, environment of an ice field. The passage shifts between blocks of material representing different physical states: firstly, bright, active and alert, the music is tossed between ice forms. The second is shockingly rigid, as if trapped in a block of ice: tight, high tension polyrhythmic and staccato. An eerie stillness characterises the third state, as if from somewhere distant, trills and oscillations quietly fill the air. The fourth is very lively, once again within the ice field. Each time material recurs the order constantly varies- heard from a different perspective.