Thea Musgrave "Threnody for English Horn and Piano"
for English horn and piano
by Thea Musgrave (b. 1928)
This work is about the powerful emotions engendered by loss. The famous medieval chant "Dies Irae" about the Day of Judgement is used as a foundation of the work. This chant is incorporated into a series of chords played extremely slowly by the piano (these chords are actually taken from the composer's setting of a poem by Georg Trakl in her Wild Winter): thus the three sections of Threnody correspond to the three lines of one verse of the medieval chant.
In the first section the chords are loud and implacable and interspersed with a misty figure that rises like incense in a great gothic cathedral. The clarinet, the "mourner", decorates the texture with an impassioned recitative.
In the second section grief erupts into turmoil and anger and this mood is echoed in the piano.
Eventually the music calms and the third section becomes a lament. This in turn merges into a coda where a quiet tolling bell-like figure in the piano and a softly rising scale in the clarinet suggest that the mourner has found peace.
The work was written in response to a request from Victoria Soames to commemorate the passing of her teacher, Roger Fallows.