The call of the horn has always transcended its mere sound to take on a wider role, a signifier of meaning for man or beast. Later, via these associations, it became a poetic image – a symbol of farewell for Beethoven and Schubert, and of the dangers of another sort of chase for Wagner in ‘Tristan & Isolde’.
“Les souvenirs sont cors de chasse
Don’t meurt le bruit parmi le vent”
These lines from Cors de chasse, Apollinaire’s brief poem about memory, were my starting point for this score, and they appear above one passage. Another couplet,
“Passons passons puisque tout passe
Je me retournerai souvent”,
is quoted elsewhere in the score. I have used these words on our perception of time’s passing since music itself is so gifted with the power of allusion, yet at the same time so reliant on our memory to overcome its transience. The piccolo motif that opens this work, for example, later returns at various points (‘souvent’, but less and less so); yet this recurrence only has allusive meaning because we use the tool of recollection for our musical navigation. The reference only works - or ‘rings a bell’ - if we recognize it. So listening is all about memory and association – or, as Apollinaire puts it, ‘memories are hunting horns, their calls fading on the wind’.
Those hunting horns, the ‘cors de chasse’, also furnished an appropriate title for a double concerto for brass soloists. The work was conceived from the start as a tribute to Sweden’s modern brass virtuosi, not only for their skill but for their advocacy of a new repertoire largely written for them.
Cors de chasse plays for 14 minutes, in a single movement. Its guiding principle is a gradual slowing-down process, for its six main sections progressively lose pace after the brisk opening dialogues between orchestral groups with which it opens. The second section brings the solo trumpet and trombone into discussions that maintain a high level of energy, bringing to a close the ‘exposition’ of musical material. Opening a new phase, first the trombone and then the trumpet have solo passages with light accompaniment; once they are reunited, a long chaconne section unfolds a repeated harmonic progression, but this striding chord-sequence itself is gradually broadening in pace as it approaches and passes its climactic point. An accompanied cadenza for trumpet and trombone introduces the fast coda, at the work’s opening tempo, in which the ‘hunting horns’ are free to celebrate velocity.
Cors de chasse was commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Brighton Festival for the 2004 Brighton International Festival, where it was premiered by Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet), Jonas Bylund (trombone) and the Philharmonia, conducted by Thierry Fischer. It is dedicated to its tireless friends David, Barbara, Nikola and Roanna.
c Piers Hellawell 2004