Richard Norris (born 1949) - Diapsalmata (musings after Kirkegaard)

Filmed live on 2nd November 2013 at The Martin Harris Centre, The University of Manchester, UK.

Benedict Holland - violin
Tim Williams - cimbalom

Diapsalmata (“refrains”) is an essay by the 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kirkegaard, which consists entirely of apparently contradictory or disconnected statements, presented in an obsessive search for a truth which is not entirely discovered; on reflection, these statements are seen to be essentially variations (or “refrains”) on a theme.

Kirkegaard’s essay is the basis for this work. It is not a literal presentation, but rather seeks to convey what I perceive as its essence: obsession, similarity within conflict, the search for truth and unanimity and the contemplation of philosophy itself. Its musical essence is contained in the first ten bars – the opening seven-note upward rush on the cimbalom and the presence, melodically and harmonically, of seconds and thirds (these thirds eventually proving rather more important).

The work is in three linked sections. In the first, which is predominantly slow and reflective, the opening cimbalom motif is heard several times, gradually transmuting from a fortissimo awakening to a gentle pianissimo farewell. Between these interjections are heard simple, sustained triads on both instruments. A delicate fingernail glissando on the cimbalom seems to herald the end of the section, but is followed by fortissimo palm clusters on the same instrument. As the sound dies away, the violin starts the second section with repeated notes, continuing the “theme” of obsession. The cimbalom then enters with its own obsessive refrain and the section develops with the violin playing pizzicato thirds (sometimes inverted to sixths) against the cimbalom’s seconds. The material played by the two instruments is close physically (generally within the spectrum of an octave) but distant harmonically, as if they are trying unsuccessfully to find common ground. Eventually, they come together in a number of unison or octave statements, although each instrument clearly retains its own personality. After the final such passage, underpinned by cimbalom thirds, the final section begins. This is a short coda, in which the violin plays lyrical transmogrifications of the opening cimbalom motif over continuing cimbalom thirds, until both instruments fade into nothingness.

©Richard Norris

About the composer: Richard Norris
Richard Norris studied privately with Anthony Gilbert before attending Manchester University, where he was awarded a masters degree with distinction and a doctorate, studying with Philip Grange.

He has had a significant number of performances, including those by the BBC Philharmonic (under James Macmillan), Orchestra of Opera North (under Elgar Howarth), Psappha (the work you hear tonght), Manchester Camerata (under Nicholas Kraemer) and RTE Vanbrugh Quartet. Richard has also had three pieces performed by Keele Bach Choir, as composer-in-residence.

Recent performances include premieres of his Symphony in (approximately) 15 minutes in London and When soft music dies... for choir (SSAATTBB) and oboe.

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