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Gwyn Pritchard: Contours 
solo violin  (1972/2002)

Features and Formations
solo violin with flute, clarinet & ‘cello

In 1972 I was invited to write a solo piece for a distinguished young Japanese violinist. At the time I had recently moved to a new part of Britain and in planning exploratory trips into my new surroundings I spent much time looking at maps of the area. I became strangely fascinated by the symbolic language of maps, in particular the contour lines defining altitudes and how they suggest landscapes which can then be constructed in our imagination. But however precisely we read a map our imaginative landscapes will always differ considerably from the actual location represented by the map. From this suggestive power of lines came the idea behind the piece I was writing for solo violin (a single musical line), and the piece was accordingly entitled Contours.

Unfortunately I was very dissatisfied with the piece, its commissioner never received it and it remained unplayed for thirty years until 2002 when I decided to do a substantial revision. This was a strange experience as I deliberately set myself the task of remaining as close as possible to the original idea and material, and to work generally much as I might have done thirty years earlier. Of course it is impossible to re-experience our past; all we have is our memory of it and memory is very fallible! However, it occurred to me that the original piece was, in a sense, like a map of a fragment of my own past; and in undertaking its reworking I was constructing a new imaginary musical landscape. What emerged was more a recomposition than a revision, yet stylistically very different from any of my more recent music, retaining much of the sound-world that characterised my music of the 1970s.

The new version of Contours was given its premiere by Darragh Morgan in London in June 2002, but even before that event the process of musical map reading had gone a step further. After reflecting on the piece’s curious position within my output as a whole I started to conceive a piece in which the solo violin line of Contours would be supplemented by material for a small ensemble (flute, clarinet & ‘cello). By analogy the new piece might perhaps be understood as corresponding to the actual geological features and formations previously only described by cartographic symbols. But is this the ‘real’ landscape defined by the original Contours, or just one more imaginary construction? Who knows? I don’t, but I strongly suspect the latter.

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