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for bass-baritone and viola

The choice of texts and musical concept for this piece were inspired by the Kafka Fragments for violin and soprano by György Kurtág. 

The idea of composing a response to Kurtág's beautiful song cycle came to me very early on while preparing to write the ten weekly short works for my BBC Residency. A true master of the musical miniature, somehow Kurtág can summon entire worlds within the shortest spans. Indeed, many of the short movements that make his Kafka Fragments use only a few words of text and last 30 seconds or less, yet each one somehow achieves incredible profundity, and absolutely captures the wide range of emotional and mental states found in the brief excerpts from Kafka's writings that he uses. 

The scoring of my piece, viola and bass-baritone, is intended as a kind of darkened reflection of Kurtág's violin and soprano. The lower range of the voice and instrument lends a slightly more sombre, perhaps more mellow tone, to the music; the opportunity to work with one of the BBC's New Generation Artists, Ashley Riches, certainly influenced me when choosing this unusual pairing, but as I began to choose the texts, all of which have a rather brooding quality, it seemed somehow fitting. 

In addition to my admiration for Kurtág, Kafka has also always been very important to me too. Reading The Trial as a teenager was a life-changing experience; it was perhaps my first real taste of the power of modern literature to convey the sense of alienation and existential angst that so much early twentieth century art does, and it was a pleasure to get to know some of his lesser known writings in researching for this piece. 


Contemplations was created on Sound and Music's Embedded programme as part of the Embedded: Radio3's Composer in 3 project and premiered in collaboration with BBC Radio 3.


10 October 2016 Recorded by Ashley Riches and Sarah-Jane Bradley, and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

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