Matthew Schellhorn

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Homage to Haydn (2009)
for solo piano | 15' | World Premiere 2009 | Commissioned by Matthew Schellhorn | Dedicated to Matthew Schellhorn
  • SummaryOpen or Close
    Homage to Haydn is a set of six miniatures commissioned by pianist Matthew Schellhorn for the 2009 Cambridge Festival. The idea came from the project undertaken a hundred years ago for the Haydn Centenary by Debussy, Ravel, Dukas, d’Indy, Hahn and Widor, each of whom wrote a miniature, later published in La Revue Musicale, for the Société Internationale de Musique. These pieces were based on the letters H-A-Y-D-N translated into the musical notes B-A-D-D-G (where B = H in German, and with D and G supplying for otherwise unplayable letters): this technique, known as soggetto cavato (literally, ‘carved subject’), was commonly used in the Renaissance.

    A hundred years later, six British composers – Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Michael Zev Gordon, Cecilia McDowall, Colin Riley, Jeremy Thurlow, and Tim Watts – have written pieces to celebrate Haydn’s bicentenary. At Matthew Schellhorn’s request, the choice of letters was freed up, with the two ‘spare’ letters becoming at the discretion of each composer.

    The six pieces, grouped together as Homage to Haydn, received their world premiere performances in the 2009 Cambridge Festival and were published later that year in Muso magazine.

    One of the pieces led to a win for its composer at the BASCA British Composer Awards 2010, with Cheryl Frances-Hoad winning the award for best piece in the Instrumental Solo or Duo category.
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  • Programme noteOpen or Close
    Odd Sympathies Tim Watts (b. 1979)
    I imagine the piece unfolding, perhaps, inside a stopped grandfather clock, whose long-silenced chime slowly reawakens. This chime is represented by a three-note chord – H(B), A, D – which is held, but not struck, and is gradually stirred into resonance by an improvisatory melody. It explores material related to the famous theme from the slow movement of Haydn’s ‘The Clock’ Symphony, but without the ‘pendulum’ motion, which gives it its nickname.

    weave Colin Riley (b. 1963)
    This short piece is created exclusively from woven fragments based on the name HAYDN (B, A, D, D, G). The material is developed in three simple ways – repetition, overlapping, and transposition, 12 times over. Bell-like chords punctuate the piece at a few points.

    Haydn Seek Cecilia McDowall (b. 1951)
    My piece revolves around a sliver of one of Haydn’s piano sonatas, buried at the centre of the little piece, with its distinctive rhythm. The duality of ‘hide and seek’ suggests the light and the dark of chiaroscuro; bright, high textures in dialogue with darker, more obscure passages, punctuated by a forte, rhythmic snap. I have based this Haydn homage on three of the letters used by the 1909 composers, B A and D. To find the other two I took the alphabet for a walk in the opposite direction (starting from A); Y became E and N became B. B, A, E, D, B appears forwards, backwards, upside down and inside out.

    Stolen Rhythm Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b. 1980)
    I took inspiration from the third movement of Haydn’s piano sonata in E flat (Hob XVI: 45) – the way it continually moves forward with a boundless energy and wit is thrilling. It seemed to me that it was the rhythmic content of the movement that gave it these properties, so I decided shamelessly to steal the rhythm – hook, line and sinker – and simply put my notes to it. I have played with various transmutations of the notes B, A, D, D, G, generating lots of different sets of pitches by methods such as inversion and transposition in order to arrive at the harmonic and melodic content.

    Innocente Michael Zev Gordon (b. 1963)
    My piece begins with a melodic fragment from Haydn’s piano sonata in G (Hob XVI: 40), but as if in a kind of dream, coloured by a chord from Debussy’s homage, then Ravel’s, then a chord of my own invention – and finally the clarity of the Haydn harmony and texture itself. What follows sways between these four colourings while elaborating a tiny wisp of a figure over an increasingly dance-like flow, sometimes in two, sometimes three. Only near the end does the figure turn fully, if very briefly, into Haydn’s name (using the ‘original’ letters of Debussy et al) as the fragments from the start are revisited.

    Butterfly Jeremy Thurlow (b. ….)
    To begin with, the five notes of the HAYDN theme (B, A, D, D, G) seemed rather intractable, but in the end I made friends with them and they gave rise to the flickering, darting melody in the right hand, which then suggested the piece’s title. Perhaps a butterfly is an apt homage to a composer of such deft and quicksilver music as Haydn.
  • PerformancesOpen or Close
    12 November 2009
    Cambridge Music Festival, UK
    World Premiere

    22 January 2010
    Brunel University, London, UK

    1 December 2010
    BBC Radio 3 ('Stolen Rhythm')

    23 November 2013
    St George's Cathedral, Southwark, UK ('Haydn Seek' and 'Butterfly')

    14 December 2013
    Goldsmiths, University of London, UK
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