Adrian Bamford

La Symphonie Primordiale
for symphony orchestra

duration: 16 minutes

La Symphonie Primordiale (1999) is a single movement work for orchestra lasting some sixteen minutes. The title is something of a play on words, 'symphonie' taking up Stravinsky's 'sounding together of instruments' in his Symphonies of Wind, but here relating to a series of primordial (prime) numbers: the sounding together of prime numbers.

The prime number series (numbers that only divide by themselves and one) is quite fascinating being infinite in length, just like the number pi, and is one of the building blocks of mathematics. Counting up from one, you never actually know whether a number will be prime or not, other than it being an odd number and, beyond the number five, one not containing five. For the composer, such unpredictablity is very appealing, offering an array of properties for exploitation of which unpredictable expansion and contraction were particularly attractive. Just after the start of the piece, the percussion instruments enter at ever expanding, yet unpredictable, distances, whilst later in the piece chord durations expand and contract, again in an unpredictable pattern. On a human level such unpredictability is present in all our lives: a chain of events can suddenly be blown of course by the unpredictable.

In searching for a relationship between prime numbers and musical notes I stumbled upon a curious property. Choosing a very low note on the piano, B, and moving up the keyboard in semitones (B-C = 1, B-C# = 2, etc) I noticed that the note which landed on a prime number (except for the initial crunch of semitones at the beginning) was always a C, E, Gb or Bb. Taken together, these four notes constitute a whole-tone derivative, symmetrical in nature: the chord of the French Sixth. In La Symphonie they and can be heard as a motive or chord (sometimes prominently, sometimes in the background) on the vibraphone, celesta and harp, acting as a kind of ostinato. The low B functions as a drone, maintained throughout by two contrabasses. The ostinato defines the form of the piece, repeated note patterns reprising material in a hybrid rondo fashion.

The French Sixth chord is illusive yet plays an important role in the musics of Wagner, Skryabin, Debussy, Stravinsky and Messiaen, providing a pivot between tonality and chromaticism. These aspects are fundamental to La Symphonie Primordiale, with its mix of consonant and chromatic chord and scale types. Haunting percussion effects add a shimmering quality, the strings have a recurrent modal-like sequence, the whole being punctuated by touches of pyrotechnics. Consequently the piece is both nostalgic and forward-looking, sometimes clear yet fragile, elsewhere confused and violent, but always unpredictable.

Adrian Bamford (born 1966) read music at Reading University, analysis at King's College, London and composition at Birmingham University where he studied with Vic Hoyland and Jonty Harrison. He has taught at the Universities of Birmingham and Derby and currently teaches composition at Reading University.

Adrian's compositions have been performed internationally and broadcast by the BBC and Bulgarian National Radio. Significant performances include Sei Poesie di Giuseppe Ungaretti (soprano & string quartet) in the BBC's first Manchester Composers Platform (1995); Shifts by the Emperor String Quartet in Maastricht, Holland (1995) and the Cheltenham Festival (1995) - both SPNM promotions; and Five Songs for an Open Mind (soprano & chamber ensemble) by Deborah Jacob and Psappha in the BBC’s second Manchester Composers Platform (1997). Adrian's trio Guernica (cl, vc, pf), inspired by Picasso's mural, is his most popular work to date with recent performances in Canada, Bulgaria, Italy and Britain. Guernica is available on CD performed by Interensemble and is published by Edizioni Musicali TauKay.

Forthcoming performances include the premiere of In Giro (cl, vln, perc, pf) by Onix in Mexico City, and a quintet commissioned by Cluster in Kiev, Ukraine.

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