Six Orchids

Download sample score: orchids_samples.pdf

Salford University, 7th Feb 2012
Conservatoire Frédéric Chopin, 43 rue Bargue, 75015 Paris, 5th Feb 2012
Conservatoire à rayonnement régional de Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, 25 rue Krüger 94100 Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France, 6th Apr 2014
Conservatoire Frédéric Chopin, 43 rue Bargue, 75015 Paris, 2nd Feb 2014
Brighton Festival 2013 | Brighton Dome Studio Theatre, 22nd May 2013
York Late Music Festival, 8th May 2008

polyphonic, lyrical

Publisher: UYMP; ISMN: M 57036 014 7

Genre: Solo keyboard(s)

[Audio extract - Orchid 3 from Dark Formations MSV 28530 recording © Metier 2012]

[Audio extract - close of Orchid 4 and beginning of Orchid 5 from Dark Formations MSV 28530 recording © Metier 2012]


published by University of York Music Press

A series of works for solo piano, the exotic floral image of the series title suggesting common patterns which underlie gradual changes in the music. Each is a variegated single movement form in which the sections fold into each other, like waves or petals, disturbing and interrupting the surface polyphony.

1st Orchid (1990) - dedicated to Nicolas Hodges. First performance by Michael Finnissy. Blackheath Halls, London, 25 January 1991

2nd Orchid (1991) - dedicated to Benjamin Morison. First performance by Benjamin Morison. British Music Information Centre, London, 14 January 1992

3rd Orchid (1994) - dedicated to Stephen Gutman. First performance by Stephen Gutman. Brighton Festival, 21 May 1994

4th Orchid (1996) - dedicated to Michael Finnissy. First performance by Ian Pace. British Music Information Centre, London, 11 July 1996

5th Orchid (2000) - dedicated to Robert Saudek. First performance by Clare Hammond. Brighton Festival, 22 May 2013

6th Orchid (2002) - dedicated to Richard Casey. First performance by Richard Casey. The Meeting House, University of Sussex, 22 February 2007

The Orchids were recorded at Cambridge University West Road Concert Hall on 21 December 2011 by Richard Casey for Metier MSV 28530.


My thanks to Richard Casey for editorial advice. EH

Extract from an article by Richard Casey (in liner notes 'Dark Formations' MSV28530 (USA: Metier Recordings, 2012))

The 1st Orchid (1990) dedicated to Nicolas Hodges begins with rhythmically complex yet cantabile four-part counterpoint climbing from the middle to the very top of the keyboard only to re-emerge at the very bottom. A second exploratory developmental passage is hauntingly punctuated by a chiming chord and dissolves into the third section where the melodies in the various parts of the polyphony keep turning back on themselves creating a cumulative tension. After an atmospheric silence the varied material of the opening returns, strongly featuring the same chiming chord we have heard earlier.

The 2nd Orchid (1991) dedicated to Benjamin Morison is similarly contrapuntal but much faster than its predecessor. The melodies are rhapsodic and quirky and unfold in a constant state of evolution as if on an unpredictable journey. The harmony is more astringent in this Orchid with little in the way of cadence, except at the very end where we are somewhat taken (pleasantly) by surprise.

The 3rd Orchid (1994) dedicated to Stephen Gutman is the most lyrical of the set marked with expression, gently singing. The inner parts of the opening polyphony resemble the interlaced petals of a flower. The harmonic language is largely tonal, the melodies are largely stepwise and the phrase lengths are largely two or four bars leading to a feeling of simplicity and disciplined elegance. A secondary theme noticeable for it syncopations has a certain mediaeval feel to it. Hughes superimposes it on itself in different tempi at several places in the work with true renaissance craft.

The 4th Orchid (1996) dedicated to Michael Finnissy, one of Hughes’s former composition teachers, is the most subtle and fragile of these delicate flowers. Four-part counterpoint similar to that of the 1st Orchid forms the texture of the opening. Harmonic ambiguity leads to a feeling of searching until a rich chord in the bass plants the music firmly in the tonal area of C and later E flat minor. Ambiguity returns, however, in the last few bars, where the music almost tries to escape from itself.

The 5th Orchid (2000) dedicated to Robert Saudek is a moto perpetuo toccata in two parts throughout. While one hand plays the highly virtuosic semi-quaver figurations, the other sings out a melody which at times sounds like a plainchant cantus firmus. The harmonic language vascilates from the diatonic to the utterly dissonant, sometimes without warning. The close juxtaposition of stability and instability is one of many interesting facets at play here. The ending in the C# of the opening bars is unnervingly quiet considering the vast journey the music has undergone.

The 6th Orchid (2002) dedicated to Richard Casey is harder edged still. The dissonant, strangely sparse two-part counterpoint of the opening evokes a terrifying volcanic landscape. As the work progresses the two parts become three, the interval of the minor sixth assumes prominence in the right hand and the counterpoint is abandoned by the left hand in favour of rippling arpeggios. The ending resolves calmly and consonantly, like the 3rd Orchid, in the key of D major. The bass note of the chiming chord in the 1st Orchid is D. The opening bars of the 4th Orchid suggest D as a tonal centre before the music wanders elsewhere. Also the 2nd Orchid frequently hints briefly at the importance of D. Therefore the D major resolution of the 6th Orchid can be experienced as the journey’s end of the series as a whole.

© Richard Casey, 2012