The unexpected request for this piece came while I was living a long-held dream of spending a spring in Paris. Being in the city of so many of my artistic heroes, I thought the music should in some way reflect their continuing presence in my life. Images and experiences abounded – the graves of Debussy and Ravel, Messiaen’s church, the paintings of Monet, Renoir, Morisot and Van Gogh, but the one image that kept haunting me was that of gardens. The great urban gardens of Paris were, of course, striking and memorable. But the one that occupied my imagination even before seeing it, seeming central the fin-de-siècle aesthetic I find so captivating, was the country garden built by Monet at his house in Giverny, which ceaselessly and symbiotically fed his creative mind for the last decades of his life, and whose design and life cycles led him on some of the most profound explorations of color, form and perspective in Western art, a dissolution of landscape into pure abstraction. The traditional – not to say hackneyed – pastoral character of the oboe seemed well suited to my penchant for nature-themed music.
The resulting piece is a kind of garden of the mind, through which the oboe charts its wayward, introspective course. Like the garden itself, Giverny is divided into two roughly equal parts, visitable in either order, with neither accorded any special structural emphasis or dramatic weight. “The upper garden” is whimsical and free, flitting from one idea to the next, reflecting the riot of color and proliferating sightlines of Monet’s flowerbeds, the multitude of ideas in the piano part bound together by the oboe’s wandering lyrical line. “The water garden” offers a still tableau in which the sound is more monochromatic, the meditative green-on-green world of Monet’s lily pond shot through only occasionally by a streak of contrasting color or sudden motion. The diffuse visual boundaries there between water, land and sky are reflected musically in the blurring of the usual melody-accompaniment roles of the two instruments, and in the way the oboe’s tone often distorts into multiphonics. Many musical ghosts hover throughout the piece, and I welcomed their presence, intruding as I was on their territory.
Matthew Whittall Instrumentation
ob, pno Category
Chamber Works Premiere
Various performers, oboe, Anna Kuvaja & Emil Holmström, piano. Commissioned by the Crusell Society for the 2014 Crusell Oboe Competition, Uusikaupunki, Finland, July 30, 2014. Movements
The upper garden & The water garden Commisioned by / dedications
Giverny was commissioned by the Crusell Music Festival in Uusikaupunki, Finland, for its 2014 oboe competition. PDF for promotional use
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