Bowden, M. (2011) Lyra. [Composition]


For cello and orchestra, duration c.20 minutes. Lyra was commissioned by the BBC as part of the composer’s residency at the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The composition of Lyra was supported by a residency at the Visby International Centre for Composers, Sweden. The first performance was given by Oliver Coates and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jean-Michaël Lavoie at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff on 8 September 2011 as part of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival. The title Lyra refers to a constellation of stars, a bass viol from the seventeenth century and a class of Russian nuclear-powered submarines. It is also the name of the wild protagonist — a young girl who becomes caught up in a cosmic war — in His Dark Materials, a trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman. These different elements influenced the music in various ways. There are three main types of material juxtaposed and intertwined throughout the whole work creating a single movement structure. The first type of material reflects the luminosity of stars and is characterised by high, rapid writing for upper woodwinds, strings and bright metallic percussion. The second type of material is song-like and was created using sonorities drawn from the particular tunings employed in lyra viol practice from the seventeenth century, whilst the third type of material is fast, sometimes violent and often low in register. Even though Lyra is cast in a single movement it is still possible to detect three broad sections plus a coda in the work. The first section opens with a fast, high and bright texture featuring the soloist, high woodwinds, percussion and divisi strings. The second section begins with a piccolo duet over a murmuring harp and string chord and leads into various melodic passages featuring the soloist, cor anglais and bassoon. A cadenza-like passage for the soloist and orchestral cellos follows. The third section begins with a brief, transformed return of the very opening material before launching into a pair of energetic orchestral tuttis. The coda features an extreme example of scordatura for the soloist who is required to de-tune the C-string down almost a full octave, as if crushed by the force of the material that has gone before. A recording of this work is available on NMC here:

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