for 2 alto flutes, bass flute, violin, viola, cello (2014)


Commissioned by Spitalfields Music

f.p. Hortus Ensemble (Daniel Pioro violin, Robert Ames viola, Oliver Coates cello, Jane Mitchell, Rebecca Larsen alto flute, Helen Keen bass flute), Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, Christ Church, Spitalfields, 3rd June 2015

Programme Note
Walled Garden (2015), for string and flute trios, is a set of three pieces designed to be interleaved with Mala punica, a sequence of canons for eight-voice vocal ensemble written in 2008-9. As its title suggests, it is a further exploration of the idea of the hortus conclusus that lies at the heart of Mala punica: the ‘enclosed garden’ as an imaginative space where all kinds of natural beauty and harmony flourish. In the Middle East and Europe this space has been more than merely imaginative or allegorical: the ancient hortus conclusus image, closely related to the Classical notion of the idealised locus amœnus (‘pleasant place’) gave rise to a tradition of walled garden design familiar to us from countless medieval paintings and manuscripts.

Echoing the latent diurnal cycle in Mala punica, the three pieces of Walled Garden represent a garden at three times of the day: dawn, early afternoon and night. All of its materials derive from a single breath or bow-stroke; the harmony comes from the first four notes (a rising modal scale) of Quae est ista, the oscillations of Hortus conclusus reappear in the following instrumental piece, and like the vocal pieces the underlying structures are canonic. There, however, the similarities with the vocal piece end: instead of the rigorously worked canons of the vocal pieces, here listeners are presented with something more like a field or musical space, internally moving but outwardly relatively static, and the players are given liberty to wander through their material in different ways and in their own time.

I imagine each piece as taking place in real-time, like an unedited film. In that time the steady-state textures change gradually: the sun increasingly catches the leaves of the plants over the eight minutes of the first piece; the wind rises and falls across the span of the second piece, and in the last there are slight, unpredictable fluctuations of gently rustling foliage.

Walled Garden and the locus amoenus

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