Chiaroscuro, the play of light and shade in painting or drawing, isn’t a term that can be applied with a precise meaning to a piece of music. And although Monet’s late paintings of waterlilies were a source for this work, I would not presume to attempt to translate a great painting into music. So perhaps all that can be said is that these sources became abstract concepts which prompted the music, and which – as often happens – retreated into the background as the music progressed and found its own logic.
The structure of the piece can be described as tripartite, though in a single movement, and lasting some sixteen minutes. The first part sets out the harmonic colouristic framework out of which emerges a very long melodic line, in which solo trumpet is the most prominent voice over a restrained but kaleidoscopic background. The second part is scherzo-like, with muted, whirling textures, and the melody fragmented. The third part, which lasts almost as long as the other two put together, alternates slow, dense chordal textures with more dramatic episodes: the two become enmeshed before the end, where the music dissolves in a wash of colour.
Chiaroscuro is gratefully dedicated to Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia, who commissioned the work with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain.