Passacaglia

Pott, Francis (2017) Passacaglia. [Composition] (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The work interrogates conflicted territory between chromatic tonality and actual atonality. In crude terms, the less chromatic and more tonal, the more optimistic the music eventually becomes. However, the Passacaglia ground bass offers a whimsical reflection of this precarious balance, in that it is not quite a 12-tone row: instead it is a 13-tone row, whereby the final note of the ground bass always compromises atonality by repeating something; also there are perfect intervals in the row which no adherent of Arnold Schoenberg would have used. A homage to the music of Frank Martin is embodied in a conscious nod towards his own Passacaglia, in that the ground bass repeats itself rising by one semitone on each reiteration - a denial of clear tonality, just as the ground bass content 'fails' to consolidate definite atonality.

The ground is modelled on Dido's Lament from Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas', in the sense that it extends to a mere 5 bars, and therefore maintains its repetition against a sense of 8-bar metre in the manuals, thereby avoiding the disabling sense of cadential repetition that any ground bass piece confronts. Just as the ground bass has 12 tones plus one added/repeated one, when it has finished repeating at every pitch it adds one further iteration. At this point the process is interrupted: a fugal exposition breaks out (developed out of the Passacaglia's opening bars but also from the ground bass). The fugue subject moves sequentially downwards, as a deliberate counterpoise to the ground bass moving gradually upwards.

The fugal material gradually begins to metamorphose back into the material of the ground bass and the ideas derived from it, until the ground bass again appears in the pedals. The perfect intervals begin to proliferate and the implication is that all is now set for an eventual triumphant peroration. Because of the superscription from the Psalms on page 1 ['How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?'] and its appropriation here as a reference to present-day migrants, this is eventually quashed in a harsh climax which closes the door on optimism. Gradually the musical argument unwinds and subsides, bringing about a muted reference to J.S.Bach's chorale prelude on 'Am Wasser Flussen Babylon' (BWV 653), which is woven in against the ground bass. The work now begins to imply an approaching conclusion in the tonality of E flat - a possibility implicit in the opening bars of the work.

The Passacaglia is integrated with a fugue motivically indivisible from the ground bass and its countersubjects. In this respect it pays obvious and traceable homage to the model set by Bach in his C minor Passacaglia [and Fugue], BWV 582.

Under terms of the composer's contract with Edition Peters, this work will be published during 2018 or in early 2019.

Item Type: Composition
Additional Information: This work was commissioned privately by the organist Sebastian Thomson, as part of his ongoing 'Angels of Creation' project. He will give the world premiere of the work in Westminster Abbey, London on 15th July 2018 and will go on to record it for the Convivium label: https://conviviumrecords.co.uk/?s=angels+of+creation .
Subjects: Music
Depositing User: FRANCIS POTT
Date Deposited: 20 Aug 2017 15:51
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2017 10:13
URI: http://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/3826

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