The heaven that dwells so deep

by Matthew Whittall

Concerto for viola and orchestra

Empty sheet

Matthew Whittall

The heaven that dwells so deep

Music Finland

Description

The title of my viola concerto is paraphrased from a personal letter of the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, referring to a need for introspection, to discover the hidden wellspring which gives rise to creativity in order that one's "voice" might sing forth. Such introspection, wrote Jung, requires taking heed of one's surroundings, listening to the outer world and responding to it. At the same time, Jung writes of the importance of organizing one's outer life practically, such that this voice might be heard and carry weight, the creation of opportunities to say urgent things. I find this idea of giving voice-vs.-listening corresponds neatly with the soloist-orchestra relationship in the instrumental concerto, and indeed, with the very idea of being commissioned to write a large public statement for orchestra. The theme also touches on my preoccupation with nature and the place of humanity – and our art ¬– within it.

Nature in art is a tricky subject. Western art on the whole tends to be more reflective of human emotional responses toward our environment than of the "truth" of the natural world, nature-as-mirror rather than nature-as-nature. This is the reason I much prefer Asian nature art forms like Japanese ink brush drawing (sumi-e), as well as Western painters like Van Gogh, Turner and Canada's Group of Seven. Such work portrays the natural world as distant, wild, overarching, both timeless and evanescent, any subjective beauty it may possess being an ephemeral construct of the beholder's mind – a style of "art-as-listening", if you will.

The tension between singing and the humbler, ritual act of listening – and the simultaneous turning inward and being drawn outward inherent in both acts– characterizes the interplay between the soloist and the orchestra in The heaven that dwells so deep. ("A journey out is a journey in," wrote the American naturalist John Muir.) The formal layout, a long, episodic single movement, is non-traditional, and the viola part is predominantly lyrical rather than overtly virtuosic, but the piece remains to me a true concerto in placing most of the weight of the narrative on the soloist. I do admit, though, that in my long-held interest in the concerto form, I have always been less fascinated with the traditional rhetorical conflict between the individual and the collective than with the idea of the soloist as a lone wanderer in search of its place in the wider continuum. The viola, then, with its muted, ruminating, almost human-sounding timbre, seemed like the perfect vehicle for a piece dealing with the idea of "voice".

The soloist ventures forth at the outset with a querying, searching melody, as if singing itself into being. The orchestra echoes it, absorbing its song and weaving a landscape of shadows and half-light through which the viola roams, projecting its musings on the opening theme. On occasion the landscape turns threatening, overwhelming the viola when its ruminations become too obsessive or self-centered, forcing it into a more contemplative position in a series of freer, cadenza-like passages, often accompanied by gentle, windchime-like music. At several points, a didjereedoo emerges from beneath as a kind of vox terrae – the continuum of nature made audible – grounding the viola with its primal sound. A balance is gradually struck as the soloist learns to listen, and the orchestra's own voices come alive. Following an intense unison climax, the orchestra begins a final song, hinted at in the initial theme as a seed present from the beginning, but only now finally accepted by the soloist. The viola draws together the various thematic strands and sonic groups in a triumphant chorus, then steps out laterally, as it were, leaving melody behind and dissolving itself into the shimmering sounds of the orchestra, as if prepared to go forth into the world in a more pure, whole state.

The heaven that dwells so deep was commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), and its composition was facilitated by grants from the Finnish Cultural Fund and the Sibelius Fund of the Finnish Composers' Society.


Instrumentation

3223 4231 14 1, didgeridoo, pno, str, vla solo [pic, afl, ehn, bcl, cbsn, pic trp]


Category

Works for Soloist(s) and Orchestra


Premiere

Ilari Angervo, viola, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, cond. Ernest Martínez Izquierdo, March 7, 2012.


Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE.


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