Why 23? Why ‘frames’? 23 happens to be a favourite number. ‘Frames’ because each of the 23 sections incorporates, more or less obliquely, a reference to another piece of music, as if seen in a frame (sometimes hardly seen at all). Since 23 is one less than 24, each referential piece was chosen from one of the 24 major and minor keys, leaving out one, which runs throughout as a linking thread. Thus the first section, after a single introductory bar, takes as its starting point Debussy’s Prelude Les collines d’Anacapri, although it soon leaves it behind.
All the possible combinations of one, two, and three instruments alternate, from section to section, with the use of all four, and this is used to demarcate the individual sections, since the musical argument usually cuts across the division into ‘frames’. I decided to determine both the sequence of the frames and their instrumentation randomly – my daughter picked them out of a hat. I particularly wanted a strong – if eccentric – framework against which to write the music because I was keen to try to write something both exuberant and zany. While I have little time for contemporary music that is simply lightweight, I can’t help regretting that most new music, including my own, tends to take itself pretty seriously.
Each section lasts approximately 30 seconds, giving an overall duration of between eleven and twelve minutes in a single movement, whose shape is, roughly, fast-slow-fast. 23 Frames is dedicated to Amelia Freedman and the Nash Ensemble, who commissioned it.