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Imagin'd Corners

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Julian Anderson
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Oliver Knussen, conductor/Leila Josefowicz, violin, plays Knussen May 7 - 9, 2009
© Peter Laki
At 42, Julian Anderson can look back on almost two decades at the forefront of the British new-music scene. In 1992, he won the Royal Philharmonic Society's Prize for Young Composers with Dark Night for large orchestra (later re-titled Diptych). After a stint at Harvard University, Anderson, who is also a highly articulate writer on music, currently serves as professor and composer-in-residence at London's Guildhall School of Music.

Five horns—four of whom change positions in the course of the work—are featured as solo instruments in Anderson's orchestral work Imagin'd Corners, written for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra while the composer was serving as Composer in Association there. The title of the work comes from one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets ("At the round earth's imagin'd corners"), which is a powerful vision of the Last Judgment and the Resurrection. This explains the role of the horns, placed at the four corners of the concert hall. Their solemn call opens the piece; the woodwind instruments (the souls?) gradually come alive and unite their voices in a dense polyphonic tapestry. A slow but gradually accelerating interlude leads into a brilliant section where the high woodwind and three solo violins launch into a dynamic counterpoint of bird-song (the passage is marked "Hommage à O[livier] M[essiaen]"). An excited fanfare-like section, incorporating a more lyrical episode for strings and harp, prepares the way for the exultant conclusion.

In this piece, Anderson makes extensive use of horn harmonics, that is, natural overtones obtained through varying lip pressure on the mouthpiece. Some of these overtones are naturally "out of tune," that is, they fall in between the twelve chromatic pitches of our regular tonal system. The use of such "microtones" considerably enriches the sound spectrum of Imagin'd Corners.