Instrumentation 3333, 4331, timpani, 3 percussion, harp, strings
First Performance 17 June 2017, Aldeburgh Festival: Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk; BBC Symphony Orchestra under Oliver Knussen
Co-commissioned by Aldeburgh Music and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England and by the Department for Culture Media and Sport
Futurist sculpture from the early Twentieth Century drives the concept behind Stone Dancer. From this source, the substance, power and implied movement, captured in each of the sculptures, weave the three pieces together. Following a Futurist approach, and as illustrated well in other works by Bray, such as At the Speed of Stillness, the paradoxical notion of displaying movement and a sense of stillness in one ‘image’ is built through varying layers within the piece, on both harmonic and rhythmic planes. The artwork inspiring the music: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Red Stone Dancer, Raymond Duchamp-Villon’s Large Horse and Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space were all created during the years 1913-14, and each of the artists served, in some capacity, in the First World War.
Working in a style than might have been expected from Gaudier-Brzeska, Red Stone Dancer is considered to be one of his most important works. Inviting and intriguing, the strangely muscular, undulating movement of the dancer, brings the figure virtually to life. Pagan yet elegant, bending, strongly rooted, preparing to thrust upwards, the forceful presence inherent in the stored energy of the figure, grips the viewer. All these separate elements play their part in the imagining of the composition. With a sense of a constant inner-pulse, the unrestrained momentum of the music revolves like a turbine in a vivid and colourful fume.
Duchamp-Villon formed his sculpture from studies of a leaping horse and rider into an abstract evocation of dynamic energy and power. The work seeks to capture a sense of motion in a Futurist manner. The distorted, curved and angular geometric shapes; the imposing, heavy, bronze-black body and the suggested galloping movement of the figure are all observations that inform the music. The sculpture stands also as a highly imaginative representation of a transition from animal form to machine, where nuts and bolts replacing skeletal joints illustrate visually and vividly the growing tensions between the natural world and one that is becoming increasingly mechanistic.
‘The vortex is the point of maximum energy. It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficiency.’ stated Ezra Pound in his essay Vortex in 1914. At the time Pound was writing, seeking to capture the mechanical dynamism of its age, as well as the stillness at its core, industrialisation swept across Europe. Harnessing itself to the intrinsic vigour of enterprise, the Futurist movement was founded by writers and artists who enthused about new ideas and inventions. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, the figure is effortlessly sprinting, gliding through the air at maximum speed and efficiency. Reflecting these characteristics, the music is light and agile, flourishes filling the score with luminosity. A second section evokes the feeling of slow motion, yet the underlying pace remains constant. The focus then shifts back to the faster layer of material, powering through in a glistening vortex. In contrast to the earthy first movement, here the music is void of anything that grounds the piece, an avoidance of lower registers.