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Of Paradise Lost : concerto for bassoon and orchestra

by Matthew Laing (2020)

Also known as: Bassoon Concerto

Of Paradise Lost


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Of Paradise Lost : concerto for bassoon and orchestra / Matthew Laing.

Library shelf no. 784.2/LAI 1 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

There's something about the sound of the bassoon that lends itself to a mythological setting. I think it might be a spoken element to the sound that it lends itself so beautifully as a narrator, or a protagonist in the kinds of stories where the natural environment are intrinsic to the feel of a work. This was probably crystallised by famous orchestral examples in Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprenticeand Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, but probably also that it's an instrument that seldom takes centre stage; the kind of personality that when it speaks it invites you in.

"Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven" is probably the most famous line from John Milton's epic poem of 1667 Paradise Lost, and is the text from which this concerto takes its name. The piece isn't programmatic; it isn't a musical retelling of the poem at all, but more reflects a relationship of the bassoon as an imperfect protaganist/antagonist to both the concept of heaven and hell as presented by the orchestra.

I feel the poem, and this line in particular speaks to the type of ambiguous precipice we currently sit, one of filled with fear and opportunity. 1660s London was a time of enormous social upheaval, and while the language and subject matter in the poem belongs to its time, the ideas feel contemporary. It's a disconcerting type of comfort that comes from knowing what we experience now has all happened before, and its a mood I've tried impart in the whole work. The piece never quite sits.

The concerto casts the role of the bassoon in two ways in two movements; in one as subjected to heaven, in the other at peace in hell.

Work Details

Year: 2020

Instrumentation: Solo bassoon, 2 flutes/2nd doubling piccolo, 2 oboes/2nd doubling cor anglais, 2 clarinets in B flat/2nd doubling bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, 2 French horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, trombone, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, 1 percussion (bass drum, tam tam, suspended cymbals, triangle), harp, strings.

Duration: 21 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Dedication note: For Jack Schiller and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Commission note: Commissioned by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.. Commissioned by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

First performance: by Jack Schiller, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko — 14 Jul 21. Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne

Performances of this work

19 May 23: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall

16 Jul 2022: at Petrenko Conducts Elgar, Laing (Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne). Featuring Vasily Petrenko, Jack Schiller, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

15 Jul 2022: at Petrenko Conducts Elgar, Laing (Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne). Featuring Vasily Petrenko, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Jack Schiller.

14 Jul 2022: at Petrenko Conducts Elgar, Laing (Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne). Featuring Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko, Jack Schiller.

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