For Oboe (doubling Cor Anglais), Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano
(2002) 17 minutes
Commissioned by the Spitalfields Festival and premiered by Nicholas Daniel and the Schubert Ensemble at Christ Church Spitalfields, June 2002.
Memoria is dedicated to Sidney “Jock” Sutcliffe (1918-2001), one of the finest oboists of the post-war era and, in his later years, an inspirational ‘cello supervisor at the Yehudi Menuhin School, with whom I spent some of the happiest hours of music-making.
The work is based on Bach’s Cello Suite No.2 in D minor, and in particular its Prelude: in discussion with Jock’s three daughters, I discovered that it was one of his favourite pieces, and that he had practiced it privately for some fifty years before feeling ready to play it in public (he would joke that Casals had been hasty in performing the work after a “mere” ten years’ reparation). Using the Bach Suite seemed doubly appropriate, as Jock had spent many an hour helping me with the piece (resulting in one of the handful of performances that I was truly happy with).
The two movements of Memoria were conceived as a Prelude and Fugue, and it is the Prelude that is based most faithfully on the Bach. There was a deliberate intention to avoid literal quotation: rather, the skeletal harmonic and structural form of the three-minute Bach Prelude is magnified so as to provide the framework of my nine-minute Prelude. This framework is then “ornamented” with original material, hopefully resulting in a movement that sounds nothing like the Bach but at the same time is deeply indebted to it.
The fugue subject of the second movement is then in turn based on my Prelude. The aim was to
completely saturate the music with fugal principles: so, for example, each root of the main harmonic sections adds up to false fugal entry (e.g. the first seven notes of the subject), the first “exposition” sections contains within it a complete “mini-fugue” and, in another section, the subject is “verticalised” so as to create a kind of chordal fugue. Along with “macro” and “micro” fugues running simultaneously at different speeds, rhythmic fugues and canons also occur at various points.
It is not until near the end, however, that the subject is heard in its pure form, as I wanted to hide as well as I could the fact that the movement was a fugue at all (just as the original Bach is concealed in the first movement).
Hopefully, Memoria can stand on its own, while at the same time being closely linked to the ‘cello suite that gave Jock so much pleasure.
© Cheryl Frances-Hoad, 2002.
"The opening work, Memoria, is a Prelude and Fugue for oboe/cor anglais, string trio and piano. Nicholas Daniel’s stunningly expressive opening lines are immediately engaging, and the piano chords which support it provide a wonderful sense of atmosphere. The momentum gathers, and there is a sense of expansive emotion within the work. Frances-Hoad’s compositional style hints at the Romantic, but within a modern musical language. It is immediately clear from the opening of this disc that emotional expression is an important factor in her writing, and this first track demonstrates the essence of that extraordinarily well. The piece is written as a tribute to Sidney ‘Jock’ Sutcliffe, who was one of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s mentors at the Menuhin School, and takes its basis from Bach’s second cello suite, although no direct quotes can be heard."
Carla Rees, MusicWeb International
"The most striking event in the concert at Spitalfields on 12 June was yet another quintet, this time a mixed consort of oboe (Nicholas Daniel), string trio and piano (Schubert Ensemble), commissioned specially from the 23-year-old Cheryl Frances-Hoad. A tricky combination, particularly in the acoustic of Christ Church (more spectacular and Piranesi-esque than ever at the moment, the galleries stripped down to their skeleton, preparatory to restoration). Frances-Hoad has solved both problems by luminous textures and plentiful doublings, often producing an uncanny effect of more instruments than the five in play. More inexplicable still, how such care for pellucidity should have been compatible with such sophisticated formal and procedural content, often intricate in argument, sometimes impassioned, sometimes mercurial, always compelling in its authority."
Robin Holloway, The Spectator
Performance history (post-premiere)
14th May 2013 - Rambert Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK (choreographed by Patricia Okenwa)
20th May 2012 - Britten Sinfonia at The Apex, as part of the Bury St. Edmunds Festival, UK