Impressions for Orchestra Op.17

Composed: 1986 and orchestrated 1989
Duration: 20 minutes
Scoring: 2 Fls, 2 Obs, 2 Cls in F and A, 2 Bsns, 4 Hrns in F, 2 Trps, 3 Trbns, Tuba, Timp, Side Drum, Glock, Tuned Gong, Tam Tam, Tambourine, Cymbals (3 players), Harp and Strings.
First Performance: July, 1990 at Stourhead, Wiltshire, given by the Southern Festival Orchestra, conducted by Robin White.

  1. Temple to Apollo
  2. Palladio’s Bridge
  3. Pantheon
  4. Grotto

During the Summer of 1984, I visited, for the first time, the National Trust gardens at Stourhead. This memorable visit left a deep impression upon me and prompted me to try and recreate in music the evocative atmosphere of the gardens, and compose what are essentially romantic impressions, which are nostalgic in character.

The Temple to Apollo opens the Suite Con Misterioso and conjures up an age, long past. The Andante that follows the introduction features a long-breathed melody presented in the first violins and then the oboe, which gathers momentum and culminates in a passionate central climax. The music then subsides and heralds a return to the ‘past’.

In Palladio’s Bridge a lilting melody for the solo oboe becomes the driving force for the movements subsequent development, where moments of calm alternate with passionate outbursts. After the works central climax, an adagio, which acts as a coda, returns to the opening material, only this time passed between clarinet, flute and oboe, ending the movement in E flat major, with a dissenting F natural in both flutes and oboes.

The third movement is a vigorous ‘impression’ of that most famous of Roman structures, the Pantheon. The interval of the fifth, and a strong ostinato figure act as the driving force behind the movements unfolding ‘drama’ and maintains its rhythmic insistence throughout. Unrelenting in mood, it ends as abruptly as it began.

A long sustained pedal note for lower strings, horns, bassoon, harp and tam-tam, reminiscent of the last movement of Mahler’s ‘Song of the Earth’, takes us into the magical world of the Grotto. Essentially a ternary structure, its central section – a slow moving melodic idea which reaches two important climaxes – is flanked by a ‘timeless’ orchestral soundworld where flute, oboe and clarinet alternate a trill like figure over sustained chords in strings and lower wind. The ‘timelessness’ of this movement epitomises the composer’s impression of structures that find themselves in a landscape where they are both out of time and place.

Ian Venables