Polyhymnia, Op.10 : lamentation for string orchestra
by Jonathan David Little (2010)
Also known as: Muse of sacred poetry
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In Polyhymnia - a searing, many-layered "Lamentation for string orchestra" (with soloists) - the melos or melodic thread often weaves between all parts, and is slow-moving throughout. Initially, it emerges like a cry from the deep. Tension is built, maintained, and released, over long periods. Leaving aside the (rather folk-like - or Celtic sounding) middle interlude, the whole work is effectively a series of extended waves, at times dissipating, before swelling and cascading forth again, towards a final powerful and sustained climax. Harmonically, the work makes great play of clashing semitones, and gradually builds up clusters of notes into evolving, everchanging, and ultimately resolving chord patterns. The string orchestra is employed multi-divisi throughout: there are four individual violin lines (besides an extra four solo parts), ditto in the violas, eight individual cello lines, and two bass lines. This tends to create a thick, rich and complex texture, yet there are also some exceptionally lucid passages - for although Polyhymnia is also the Muse of Eloquence, she is more often characterised as a serious, pensive and meditative holy woman whose main role is to sing praises to the gods. According to some ancient sources, Polyhymnia, sometimes pronounced or abbreviated to "Polymnia", is believed to have invented the lyre, and is also said to be an encourager of the dance.
Instrumentation: Large string orchestra: Violins I, II, III & IV (including 4 solo violins); Violas I, II, III & IV (including 4 solo violas); Cellos I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII & VIII; Contrabass I & II. Suggested minimum balanced forces: 8 (+4) violins, 8 violas, 8 cellos, 2 contrabasses.
Duration: 21 min.
Commission note: Supported by the Musicians Benevolent Fund (UK) with funding from the Willis & Grace Grant Charitable Trust.
"She of many Hymns". Evocation of the sixth of nine muses.
Recipient of the 'Musicians Benevolent Fund Professional Development Award' (UK).
Resonate article: Creating and recording Polyhymnia by Jonathan David Little
- In the form/style of: Spiritual and Sacred Music
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