Violinist Hugo Ticciati will give the Swedish premiere of Nigel’s epic violin and wind orchestra work `Black Fire’ with the Göteborg Symphonic Band under the baton of David Lundblad. The concert will take place on 13 March in the Artisten, Gothenburg. A second performance will be given at the Jakobskyrkan on 14th May in Stockholm.
`Black Fire’ was written for Gerald Loren Welker, Peter Sheppard Skærved and the Alabama Wind Ensemble. The first performance was given in the Moody Hall of the School of Music at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, USA on 25th April 2006.
This is not a straightforward concerto, but rather a symphonic drama for violin and ensemble. It uses the soloist as both protagonist and ensemble player, much as Berlioz treated the viola in his symphony `Harold in Italy’.
The title `Black Fire’ comes from Book II of John Milton’s epic poem `Paradise Lost’ written in 1667.
`Black fire and horror shot with equal rage’ (BkII.67)
Books I & II of ‘Paradise Lost’ provide the framework for `Black Fire’. Milton’s `Paradise Lost’ is an imaginary prequel to the Old Testament where the first two books begin with Satan’s expulsion from Heaven, and his subsequent creation of Hell. Saturn begins to plot with the other fallen angels to capture Heaven and overthrow God. However, his peers decide this course of action is too precarious, having already tasted defeat when they were expelled from heaven. It is decided that Satan will travel alone to Paradise, with the mission of spoiling God’s newest creation, `Mankind’ in the shape of Adam and Eve.
`Black Fire’ is written in one movement though it has three clear sections (slow, fast and slow). The music reflects the various shades of darkness and suffering that dominate the atmosphere of the early part of the poem. The violinist takes the role of Satan, reflecting his moods, from righteous indignation to sorrowful remorse. I have taken a motif from Wagner’s opera `Götterdämmerung’ (Twilight of the Gods) which I have used throughout the work to represent Satan’s brooding hatred. At the end of the work you find Satan in the form of the solo violin heroically travelling towards Paradise to corrupt `Mankind’.
`Black Fire’ starts with Satan and his cohorts, cast down from heaven, contemplating their apparently hopeless predicament:
`No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv’d only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end….’ (Bk1. 63 – 67)
Milton was blind when he wrote this epic; his poetic vision is often expressed through music and sound. For example:
`Of Trumpets loud and Clarions be uprear’d’ (Bk1. 533)
`Sonórous metal blowing Martial sounds:’ (Bk1. 540)
`Against the Highest, and fierce with graspèd arms
Clash’d on their sounding shields the din of war,’ (Bk1. 667 – 668)
Milton’s description of Satan’s creation of hell (Pandemonium) is surprisingly, not defiant, but a gently evocative, musical gesture.
`As in an Organ from one blast of wind
To many a row of Pipes the sound-board breathes.
Anon out of the earth a Fabric huge
Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound
Of Dulcet Symphonies and voices sweet,’ (Bk1. 708 – 712)