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Program note: Iain Grandage's "Black dogs"

  • program note by the composer

Black Dog (noun) melancholy or depression.

The unknown, unknowable workings of the mind are a source of much interest and many questions to me. Where does our sense of self reside? How do we know who we are? When two dear friends recently went through periods of mental fragility, their experiences dominated my own mind, and manifested themselves in this work.

The guitar is the principal voice for the majority of Black Dogs. It is the mind, introducing material that is then amplified, modified and refracted through kaleidoscopic glasses by the 4 string players. The work follows a traditional three movement concerto structure, albeit played continuously and book-ended by a prologue and an epilogue.

The harmonic material for the work has at its heart the all-interval tetrachord D-Eb-F-A. This manifests itself in different ways in each of the three movements – as part of an octatonic scale in the 1st, as part of a dodecaphonic tone row in the 2nd, and as the harmonic delineator of the form in the rondo-like 3rd movement.

The work opens with a Prologue dominated by guitar arpeggio figures, between which small presciences of material from the later movements appear. The 1st movement is dominated by swirling arpeggiated figurations in the violins that delineate a world within which the guitar and lower strings converse. After a period of intense homophony, the uneasy stillness of the second movement emerges. It is centred around a long, languid melody which is constantly kept on its toes by a rocking minor third motif and overlaid with bubbling 12-tone phrases. The 3rd movement is a moto perpetuo of ever-increasing aggression and anxiety which concludes with an epilogue that echoes the opening of the work.

Black Dogs was commissioned by and written for the marvellous guitarist Craig Ogden and the Brodsky Quartet – all impassioned supporters of new music whose technical virtuosity, intuitive musicality and personal generosity are a joy to be around.


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