British composer, Colin Matthews has made a significant contribution to the oboe repertoire over a period of several decades. Below are a selection of his oboe works featuring programme notes written by the composer himself.
As well as the compositions mentioned below, a new solo oboe work will soon be available which Colin is composing for the Barbirolli Oboe Competition on the Isle of Man.
i. Prelude ii. Elegiac Intermezzo iii. Barcarolle iv. Epilogue
When I was commissioned by the Wigmore Hall and the Radcliffe Trust to write a work for the Britten Sinfonia I decided to go beyond the two oboe quartets I had written previously by composing an oboe octet – not, as some to whom I mentioned it supposed, for eight oboes (!), but for oboe quartet (oboe and string trio) and string quartet. They are used almost throughout as two separately defined groups, with their own music (which is however often exchanged between the two), only rarely joining together in the same music as an octet. The four movements, of which the first is by some way the longest, play without a break; the second movement is for oboe quartet alone. But this formal organisation is only a background to the piece, whose melodic writing for oboe is the dominant feature. Postludes is dedicated ‘in loving memory’ to Oliver Knussen, who died while I was in the middle of the composition. But it had already been inspired by his oboe quartet Cantata, the work that he was writing when I first met him in 1976.
Duologue was written at the request of Nicholas Daniel and Julius Drake in the late spring of 1991, and first performed by them in June at a Wigmore Hall concert to celebrate the tenth year of their duo partnership. I was writing very much against time, and since Nick and I were both devotees of new technology, I faxed each page of the manuscript to him as soon as it was completed, receiving encouraging faxed replies by return, often in the middle of the night. The urgency of the composition is probably most evident in the pace of the first movement, a kind of moto perpetuo which requires a soloist with iron lungs; by contrast the second movement is very still and quiet, with decorative melismas from both piano and oboe (many of whose notes are ‘bent’, using quarter tones). The finale is a gently satirical attempt to review the ‘finale problem’ – perhaps best explained by saying that this is something well known to composers. Having recently made a realization of the Mozart ‘Musical Dice Game’ I composed a number of small blocks of rather predictable material for the piano, then threw dice in order to put them into an unpredictable sequence. The oboe does not know what is going on, and its attempts to join in are generally frustrated until finally the pair of them do get together, only to bring about an abrupt ending.
Night-Spell is a short atmospheric piece for oboe and piano written at the request of Nicholas Daniel. It is dedicated to Hannah Rogers and Peter Taylor on the occasion of their wedding.
Oboe Quartet No. 1
Commissioned by the University of Nottingham for their centenary year. My Oboe Quartet was written early in 1981 to a centenary year commission from the University of Nottingham. The work, which lasts about 10 minutes, is in fifteen short sections (all linked by related tempi) in which all four instruments alternate with the four different combinations that can make up a trio. This framework is separate from the musical argument, in which variations on the three ideas set out in the opening section evolve continuously. The music attempts to be both capricious and lyrical, though not necessarily both at the same time.
Oboe Quartet No. 2
My Second Oboe Quartet was promised to the Berlin Oboe Quartet after a performance which they gave of my first quartet in January 1988. Composed in the autumn of 1989, the work is, like the earlier quartet, in a single movement, with quite a complex structure of overlapping variations; but the oboe has more of a concertante role, and the music is on the whole faster and more concentrated. It lasts around 9 minutes. The first performance was given by the Berlin Oboe Quartet in a Park Lane Group Concert in the Purcell Room, London, in February 1990.
Arrangement of Mondnacht by Schumann
In 1990, Colin Matthews completed a beautiful arrangement of Schumann’s Mondnacht for oboe and string trio.
About Colin Matthews
Colin Matthews was born in London in 1946. He studied music at the Universities of Nottingham, and Sussex, where he also taught, and subsequently worked as assistant to Benjamin Britten from 1972 – 6, and with Imogen Holst from 1971 – 84. He collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the performing version of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.
Since the early 1970s his music, ranging from solo piano pieces through four string quartets and many ensemble and orchestral works, has been played worldwide, with recordings on Unicorn, Virgin, Collins Classics, Deutsche Grammophon/Decca, Hallé, Naxos and NMC. From 1992-9 he was Associate Composer with the London Symphony Orchestra, writing amongst other works his 2nd Cello Concerto, for Rostropovich. In 1997 his choral/orchestral Renewal, commissioned for the 50th anniversary of BBC Radio 3, was given a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. His ballet score Hidden Variables opened the Royal Ballet’s 1999/2000 season, and the large-scale ensemble piece Continuum was toured in Europe by the BCMG and Simon Rattle in 2000. Recent works include Reflected Images for the San Francisco SO, Berceuse for Dresden for the New York Philharmonic, Turning Point for the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and a Violin Concerto for Leila Josefowicz and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He was Associate Composer from 2001 -10, and is now Composer Emeritus, with the Hallé, for whom he completed his orchestration of Debussy’s 24 Preludes in 2007; Alphabicycle Order was premiered by the Hallé at the 2007 Manchester International Festival. Night Rides, commissioned by the London Sinfonietta was premiered in May 2011. No Man’s Land, commissioned by the City of London Sinfonia in memory of Richard Hickox was given in the 2011 Proms, and Grand Barcarolle by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Riccardo Chailly in autumn 2011. Matthews’ 4th String Quartet was written for the Elias Quartet in 2012; Traces Remain was commissioned by the BBCSO and first performed in 2014, and Spiralling by Spira Mirabilis at Aldeburgh in October 2014. The Pied Piper, a collaboration with Michael Morpurgo, was performed by the LPO in February 2015. Future commissions include works for Tanglewood and the BCMG.
In 1998 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Nottingham, where he holds the post of Special Professor. He is currently Prince Consort Professor of Music and Fellow of the Royal College of Music, a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music, where he was a Governor from 2001-2008, and Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Composition at the University of Manchester. He was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music in 2010. He was presented with the RPS/PRS Leslie Boosey Award in 2005, and was appointed OBE in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to music.