Composition Date: 1993
Orchestration: String orchestral
Commissioned by BT Scottish Ensemble.
First performed by BT Scottish Ensemble, Bonar Hall, Dundee, 1993.
Sally Beamish 1992
For several years, Sally Beamish worked on ideas for an opera with playwright David Pownall, based on his play Music to Murder By, which is about the 16th-century Italian prince and murderer, Don Carlo Gesualdo. History relates that he arranged for his unfaithful wife and her lover to be murdered. By contrast, he also happened to be a prolific composer of madrigals, having six books of them published.
Beamish initially built a guitar piece around one of his more extraordinary madrigals, and described how `the strange resonances of his music continue to surface in my mind, leading me to use two of his madrigals and a sacred motet as the basis of this Concerto Grosso.'
The piece is in five movements. The first two and the last two being pairs of `slow-fast' and the central movement, an Adagio, drawn directly from the first of the `Responsorien' - `In Monte Oliveti'. The first two movements use material from one of Gesualdo's best known madrigals, `Moro Lasso' - the harmony and rhythmic figurations are strongly influenced by his chromaticism and idiosyncrasies. The fourth movement refers back to this sound-world, and leads into the fifth which waves a strongly characterized `concerto grosso'-style movement around rhythmic fragments taken from a lighter madrigal `Or che in gioia'.
Concerto Grosso was commissioned by the BT Scottish Ensemble, and first performed in Dundee on 1st January 1993.