for violin (modern or baroque), double bass
10 mins.

Commissioned by Barry Guy and Maya Homberger.

Programme notes

Fiddlesticks¬†was written on a hilltop in rural Ghana between October 1994 (in London) and January 1995. There was a hiccup in its composition after I left the sketches in a train from King’s Cross to Cambridge. Miraculously, they turned up at the Lost Property Office six weeks later. It was commissioned by composer and bass virtuoso Barry Guy and his partner, baroque violinist Maya Homberger, and was written for the baroque violin (at A = 415) with the double bass remaining at modern pitch (A = 440). This unusual arrangement produces natural harmonics a semitone apart between the instruments – a rare and irresistable effect. However, in the course of writing the piece I realised that it works equally well (but differently) if both parts are played on modern instruments and at modern pitch. This brings the harmonics back into line with each other, and shifts the pitch relationships of the rest of the material in a fascinating way. Both versions are viable.

The piece is palindromic in shape: from the central point, the music goes into reverse, but is also freely developed and varied, so that the palindrome is not too noticeable. Just before the end, there is an extended cadenza for both instruments. The dynamic shape and order of play of this is indicated; but the players – as with a traditional cadenza – are asked to use material from earlier on in the piece, and add ideas of their own. A short coda (a reversed version of the opening bars) rounds off the piece.

Giles Swayne 2008