Swirling Skirmish (recorder & harpsichord) [2002]

Year of composition
Difficult (Grades 7+)
9 minutes
Modern classical music
Large mixed ensemble

A jolly romp for treble recorder (or other treble instrument) and harpsichord. Performance directions as follows:–- The recorder part should be played in strict tempo throughout. The harpsichord part has no time signatures, no bar-lines and only occasional rhythmic values (which are not specific, but merely approximate guides). It is intended that the harpsichord should follow the recorder line (in the harpsichord part), and play as accurately as possible using the rhythms implied by each note?s horizontal position in relation to the recorder. Where a note or chord in the harpsichord is directly underneath a note in the recorder part, the harpsichord should aim to play simultaneously with that recorder note (on a few occasions where it is especially important the direction ?Together? is given). However, the majority of the harpsichord?s notes are not sounded together with the recorder. The harpsichord should also try to avoid playing in any specific metre given by the recorder (there is a temptation to fill in the gaps with quaver syncopations), unless the spacing of the notes indicates otherwise (i.e. for much of the piece there should be little sense of metre, and the pulse given by the recorder (crotchet = 108) should for the most part be upset by the harpsichord). It is suggested as preferable that both performers play from the same part, with the harpsichord player turning the pages. However there is a separate recorder part if required (although the unrelenting nature of the piece has meant that the page-turns in the recorder part are a little awkward). In either case, the recorder player should take great care entirely to ignore the harpsichord throughout regardless (possible exception at G) ? it is the duty of the harpsichord to keep up with the recorder.

Another way of performing Swirling Skirmish is to use two or possibly even three melody instruments (recorders, flutes or oboes) playing in unison (or at the octave with a Sopranino recorder). The inevitable slight differences in rhythm will result in a form of heterophony, which should add to the folk-dance quality of the melodic line.

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