Hiljaisuus puhuu

by Matthew Whittall

Helsinki variations

Silence speaks

for orchestra

Empty sheet

Matthew Whittall

Hiljaisuus puhuu


Description

“’Täällä Ainolassa tämä hiljaisuus puhuu.’ (Jean Sibelius, 1948).

Asked
for a work on a Finnish theme, I turned to choral music, a genre that
embodies for me both the personal and the communal, the intimate and the
shared. Having performed most of Jean Sibelius’s choral oeuvre myself,
the work that remains my favorite is the modest Christmas song Nyt
seimelle pienoisen lapsen (“Now to the little child’s manger”), with its
gently asymmetrical rhythms and Dorian modality.

This source material is sampled, remixed, looped and time-stretched
into an ambient soundscape of tone clusters, chiming chords and
occasionally growling noise. “Silence” is present as a quiet mass of
strings, hovering immobile throughout, over which ideas are sketched,
held up to the light and allowed to sink back into the mist. The
orchestra is enormous, but is used for depth of sound rather than
volume. While I rarely state explicit technical goals, I set myself the
challenge of only using the pitches in the original song, with the
result that much of the piece consists of “white” notes.

I’d originally had a bright tone in mind, which remains to a great
degree. But the intervening pandemic years made me consider many
different silences: the silence of solitude, of winters in isolation;
the silence of creative drought; the angry, forced silence of the arts,
of the singing voice; of political indifference and protest; the silence
of grief and loss, and the comforting silence of togetherness. All
these silences are eventually subsumed in a final surge of light – a
kind of rebirth.

Hiljaisuus puhuu was commissioned by the Helsinki Philharmonic
Orchestra as part of its “Helsinki Variations” series, and is dedicated
to its conductor, Susanna Mälkki.


Instrumentation

4444 6441 13 2, str (16-14-12-10-8)


Category

Works for Orchestra or Large Ensemble


Premiere

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Susanna Mälkki, cond. October 14, 2022, Helsinki


Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra as part of its “Helsinki Variations” series. Dedicated to Susanna Mälkki.


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