Richard Bullen recently completed a PhD with David Sawer at the Royal Academy of Music where he also had lessons with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Harrison Birtwistle.
His works have been performed by several leading UK new music ensembles, and have been broadcast on national radio. He won a BASCA British Composer Award in 2011 and received a second nomination in 2013 for Elemental Songs and Dances, a large-scale cantata commissioned by Spitalfields Music for baritone, ensemble and 120 school children (ages 7-9).
This piece is a personal response to Umberto Boccioni’s painting Visioni Simultanee (1912), which depicts the urban street as an ‘overwhelming vortex of modernity’. The Italian Futurist artist wanted to capture the dynamic sensation of “the inside and the outside, of space and motion, in all directions experienced on approaching a window”. He examined the tense relationship between an object (in this instance a woman’s head) and its surroundings (the swarming, chaotic city) by absorbing foreground and background material into one another.
So, how do the above ideas translate into the music itself? Well, for a start I have explored how a single melody interacts with background elements, and can be subsumed into the texture, before reappearing elsewhere in an altered state. Musical lines meet, intersect, and collide with each other, with brass interjections cutting through planes of activity like raw and violent brush strokes.
Listen out for the contrast between minimal harmonic movement and bustling, whirling textures, which creates an aural illusion of ‘running on the spot’ — both dynamic stasis and frozen action. Listen out also for the short solo clarinet melody about three minutes in, which forms the basis of the entire middle section. I explore this single musical idea from multiple perspectives, using a variety of transformational techniques such as augmentation, diminution, inversion and transposition. This method of continuously revisiting the same object in different lights is analogous with Cubism — one of the central precursors of Futurist art.
With the orchestra as my ‘palette’ and time as my ‘canvas’, I hope I have communicated musical energy rippling out and mixing with different colours, therefore in some way realising Boccioni’s ambition: “The time has passed for our sensations in painting to be whispered. We wish them in the future to sing and re-echo upon our canvasses in deafening and triumphant flourishes. Richard Bullen
For orchestra Visioni Simultanee was commissioned and performed by Finchley Chamber Orchestra and premiered on 7th March 2015 at Trinity Church, London.
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