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One, or ‘one-ness’ is symbolic of unity in all cultures and religions. This movement does state the row in its simplest form (divided into three subsections – ‘three in one’ – a symbol not confined to the Trinity in Christian thought – for example the Three Jewels in Buddhism or the Trimurti in Hinduism). The rest of the movement weaves parallel versions of the row so that they are often indistinguishable (e.g. in the opening the appoggiaturas represent a separate iteration of the row from the full notes). These different fragments are brought together as the movement progresses in a unifying process.


Two, or ‘dualism’ typically reflects opposites. The oboe often plays two different roles in music – the ‘pipe’ of happy, care-free – often pastoral scenes that contrasts with the melancholic, harsher characteristics of the instrument. Here the focus is on ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’, as portrayed as twins by Leonardo Da Vinci ‘since there is never one without the other’. Pleasure comes first, using softer ‘minor’ intervals derived from the tone row, pain the more strident intervals.


The number three had divine qualities for the Pythagoreans and the link between music and the cosmos (music of the spheres) is symbolised here by the link between triads - minor, major and augmented.


The symbolic nature of seven is usually one of completeness, creation and in particular of beauty. My intention here was to exploit the oboe’s particular ability to portray beauty through a set of seven variations that become progressively more ornate before returning to their original simplicity.


The symbolic meaning of twelve, widespread through many cultures is that of the complete representation of a class of objects, people(s), ideas or opinions. A typical example of this is the order placed by man onto his description of how the cosmos is organised in the form of the twelve constellations. To represent this idea the last movement is ordered not just by the pitch constraints of the tone row (however loosely applied) but also ‘constellations’ of note lengths and their accompanying rests.

Partita for Solo Oboe

This piece for solo oboe is about the symbolic significance of numbers and how these might be portrayed musically. It utilises serial techniques in different ways, ranging from the simple statement of a 12-tone row to an algorithmic system that incorporates note and rest length as well as pitch. Five numbers are represented, one for each movement – One, Two, Three, Seven, and Twelve, - selected for their particular symbolic significance.

The whole piece is underpinned by particular tone row, which was constructed so as to have the following characteristics: (a) It contains the 3 triads, minor, major and augmented; (b) the first half is constructed of ‘major’, more strident intervals (M), the second minor, softer intervals (m), (c) it contains a chromatic segment – which results from the joining of the end of the row to the beginning – notes 11, 12 and 1. See image below - taken from the original composition notebook -with its inverted and retrograde forms.

To view the score go to Score Video

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