Sketches before a storm

by Matthew Whittall

for flute and kantele

Empty sheet

Matthew Whittall

Sketches before a storm

Music Finland


Sketches before a storm, for flute and kantele, is a product of my fascination over the last several years with various Japanese art forms, poetry and landscape painting especially. The style of fast-sketched inkbrush painting known as sumi-e is one I find particularly inspiring. I am constantly attracted by its spaciousness, the limited use of a few controlled gestures in a single color, usually black, to create a simple but sharply defined image; the alternation of emptiness and dense activity, light and shade and, above all, by the overwhelming feeling of balance in such scenes.

The piece is, as the title implies, a series of brief vignettes or panels, some linked, some standing slightly apart from the overall structure, that together create a larger landscape. The two instruments soliloquy and dialogue freely, using and re-using a minimal set of musical “brushstrokes” deployed in improvisational fashion throughout. The “storm” is an image only intimated by the unsettled, slightly volatile nature of the music, like waves of tension mounting before a rainstorm that never arrives (except perhaps for the first heavy drops). Although the influence of Japanese music may occasionally be heard, the relationship is more of a structural one, where small-scale materials are arranged into a form of greater complexity. I like to think the use of extended techniques – airy flute sounds, strings being scratched and buzzed together – parallels the technique in sumi-e of letting the paper show through the ink, thereby exposing the material upon which the scene is drawn, the canvas, in the case of music, being silence.

Sketches before a storm was commissioned by Tuuli Lukkarinen and Salla Ruuskanen with the generous assistance of the Kordelin Fund, and is dedicated to them.

© Matthew Whittall


fl, kantele


Chamber Works


Salla Ruuskanen, flute, Tuuli Luukkarinen, kantele, Helsinki, April 20, 2006.

Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by and dedicated to Tuuli Luukkarinen and Salla Ruuskanen.

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