Composition Date: 1992
Commissioned by City of Reykjavik.
First performed by Iceland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller in Reykjavik, 1993.
The ancient `classical music' of the Scottish bagpipe, the pibroch or - in Gaelic - piobaireachd, is a set of variations on a slow theme, or urlar. The variations follow a set pattern, moving from a simple paraphrase of the original melody, adding increasingly elaborate instrumentation, until the music builds up to a frenzy of rapid grace notes. At the end, the urlar is usually repeated.
I recently wrote a pibroch of my own, later expanding it into a piece for piano trio, using more contemporary methods of variation. This involved experimenting with the separation of ornament and melody into different keys, and even developing the `drone', which extends downwards by a tone in each variation, so that in the end it encompasses a complete whole-tone scale.
In Symphony I have developed the idea still further, this time interspersing the variations with a `setting' (albeit without voices) of Psalm 104.
The structure emerged thus:
1. Verses 1-5, `Bless the Lord, O my soul!' (brass).
2. Urlar (strings).
3. Verses 6-13, `..springs gush forth,' `the birds of the air.'
4. Variation 1 (flute, bassoon).
5. Verses 14-18, the abundance of creation (passacaglia, beginning on cellos).
6. Variation 2, Taorluath (I oboe; II percussion and piano).
7. Verses 19-23, the seasons; night and day (passacaglia, solo horn plays urlar in Gaelic psalm style - ie solo echoed by tutti).
8. Variation 3, Crunlauth (I trumpet and horns; II flutes; III woodwind and side-drum).
9. Verses 24-32, `O Lord, how manifold are thy works' (chorale), `..the sea, great and wide...ships and Leviathan.'
10. Variation 4, Crunluath mach (I flute and piccolo; II strings; III tutti).
11. Verses 33-35 and Urlar, `I will sing to the Lord all my days.'
Symphony, which is dedicated to my husband, represents for me a celebration of the beauty of Scotland, and the inspiration I have found here.
King James Version (KJV)
104 Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
4 Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.
8 They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.
9 Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
10 He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
11 They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.
13 He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;
15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
17 Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.
19 He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
20 Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
21 The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
22 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
26 There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
27 These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
31 The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.
32 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.
35 Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord.