Magma - Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra/Symphony No.4

A note on its composition by Erkki-Sven Tüür

The tension within "Magma", figuratively speaking, is formed through the contact between an impenetrable granite mass and crystalline transparent clouds. We encounter the contrast right at the beginning of the piece: the chord pyramid of the full orchestra starts from the low registers and rises to flow into brilliantly cold spheres of music. The transformation is carried out by the rapid passages of the glockenspiel, which is on the one hand surrounded by the woodwinds and on the other by the string instruments. The woodwinds start off with short fast motifs that are evenly extended to create a texture that has an effect similar to digital delay. The string instruments create a long drawn out background senza vibrato. The base for the two contrasting blocks is identical and consists of six 17-pitch scales. The rest of the piece contains many variations and synthesis of the given scales. The modification to the scales takes place horizontally as well as vertically.

The next part is more static until the next chord pyramid is encountered, which is again followed by a passage by the glockenspiel-vibraphone-woodwinds, which this time is more intensive and then the pyramids for the third time. The development thereafter is constructed using also serial and heterophonic principles. The percussion soloist while playing the vibraphone produces a resonance to the woodwinds and using the rototoms or bongos creates a resonance to the sound mass produced by the string instruments before tackling the drum-set. The first part of the work, which continually has been creating more tension, culminates in the soloist's improvisational solo that is absorbed into the next chord pyramid. The tempo becomes slower and a descent occurs into cool depths, which may be characterised as a reflection of the crystalline clouds described in the beginning in an endless dark void. Thereafter the marimbaphone introduces the congas and all which follows is a gradual rise into the final culmination.

In "Magma", special emphasis has been placed on different harmonic constructions. Colour harmony, meaning that certain instrument groups present harmonic passages that are constructed using specific chords and other instrument groups present other passages using other chords and so on, is combined with sonorous conception which in turn is united with the concept of harmonic thronging. Complex rhythmic patterns are interchanging with patterns more close to rock and jazz world. A longer line of melody, which is emerging in the final third of the work, could be seen as a result of the continuous lengthening of different motifs and the synthesis of them.

I am deeply grateful to the phenomenal percussion soloist Evelyn Glennie who suggested to me that I write a percussion concerto for her. The piece has now turned into a symphony with a solo percussionist. Many words of gratitude go also to de Filharmonie who commissioned the work.

Erkki-Sven Tüür

Magma: an alloy rich in silicon and containing many oxides, water and diffused gasses, all of which is burning hot in the Earth's interior.

(translation from the original Estonian note to English by Mehis Kivilo)


Return to the Erkki-Sven Tüür Interviews, Articles & Bibliography Page.
Return to the Erkki-Sven Tüür Information Archive and Homepage Index.