Airs, Waters and Floating Islands
Airs, Waters and Floating Islands was commissioned by Susan Tomes with funding from The Holst Foundation, and was premiered by her in Kettles Yard, Cambridge in March 1996. It reflects, in its title, my recurrent concern with juxtaposition of blocks of opposing musical expressions; it was begun very much as a patchwork of these blocks, or ‘floating islands’, though later it became a more unified ‘poem’, with the coda, for example, reprising versions of the two main sections. The opening chunky (cluster) material – the ‘Airs’ – gives way to a stately ‘Waters’ flow; after a further clomping cluster section, the second idea is also reprised, as a chorale. The later part of the piece moves into a more fluid world of passagework, relying heavily on a unison texture which gives way use of parallel intervals. Finally the coda brings back, refracted, the cluster and chorale ideas, growing ever closer together. The contrast between blocks that interlock and separately evolve was characteristic of my pieces in the 90s, but it also pointed forward to multi-movement structures with segmented contrasts, such as my 2002 quartet Driftwood on Sand – or to Agricolas, with its connecting ‘Bridge’ episodes; I have often likened the smaller component pieces of these works to ‘offshore islands’.

c Piers Hellawell 2011