Concertante for solo violin, two flutes and strings
1 Prelude: Lady Blunt’s Stradivarius; 2 Passacaglia: the still night; 3 Perpetuum mobile: Belloc’s Mill
Oxford University Press (Hire Library)
Commissioned by Shipley Arts Festival
First performance 5 May, 2007
Andrew Bernardi, violin, Linda Coffin, flute, Bruce Martin, flute, Bernardi Chamber Ensemble, conductor Nic Pendlebury
St Mary’s Church, Shipley, West Sussex
Great Hills takes its title from the poem, The South Country, by the distinguished local poet and MP, Hilaire Belloc, in which he describes, with great warmth, his love for the surrounding countryside. When the Artistic Director, Andrew Bernardi, introduced me to this beautiful part of England and its gentle rolling landscape with all its vibrant associations in both music and literature I knew I was going to have a feast of inspiration for Great Hills.
One of these associations is with the violinist, Lady Anne Blunt, an ancestor of the Lytton family of Newbuildings Place, Shipley: her Stradivarius was made in 1721 which was about the time Bach wrote his Brandenburg Concerto No.4 (also in the programme of the premiere performance)and it was this connection that seemed to me a perfect starting point for the work. Great Hills uses the same instrumental combination as the Bach concerto grosso (solo violin, two flutes and strings) and the first movement, Prelude, takes on some of the characteristics of this 18th century form with some unexpected twists.
The second movement, Passacaglia: the still night, grew from a poem, A Summer Evening Churchyard, by the poet, Shelley (born in Horsham, near Shipley). The gentle pace of this beautiful poem is echoed by the ground bass as it unfolds beneath the meditative, lyrical line of the solo violin and the interlocking flutes.
The busy, continual motion of the final movement was suggested to me by the sails, grinding cogs and mechanical action of the windmill in Toccata: Belloc’s Mill (the windmill was also known as King’s Mill and as Mrs Shipley). The perpetual movement is shared between the soloists and the strings, always driving the work onwards. In the coda of the toccata the energetic patterns are repeated and as they unwind the work gradually comes to a halt before an exuberant finish.
Belloc acquired the mill in 1906 and kept it in use with the miller Ernest Powell working there until it finally ceased to operate in 1926. On one occasion Belloc invited Powell to make up a four at cards. The other two players turned out to be G.K.Chesterton and Winston Churchill!
This work is dedicated to the memory of my cousin, Charlotte Johnson, whose love of beauty in nature was always an inspiration.
Great Hills has been generously funded by Eve Barratt, a longstanding Friend of Shipley Arts Festival.