Finnissy: Opera of the Nobility (2017)

Scored for soprano saxophone, piano and percussion (vibraphone, glass/pottery/stone)

Duration: 16'

First performance: 1 November 2017, AFEKT International New Music Festival, Tallinn

Published by Verlag Neue Musik Berlin

Composer’s note:

This piece was begun on 18th January and completed on 4th September 2017. It has two sections, each identically subdivided into roughly 4 minutes of Fast ‘abstract’ patterns, followed by 4 minutes of Slow music referencing Baroque opera arias. I wanted to work in a clear and distinctive way with Repetition. The fast music is characterised by a triple-metre pulse, unison rhythm, glass-pottery-and-stone percussion, and the resonance of piano harmonics. The slow music is unmeasured, draped across fragmentary extracts from arias, sung by the soprano saxophone, in which harmonic directionality has been suspended, disrupted or forgotten. I have avoided using any sounds in the bass register.

In the first section the slow music is drawn from Artabano’s aria “Pallido il sole” from ‘Artaserse’ by Adolf Hasse, in the second section from Acis’s aria “Dolci fresche aurette” from Nicolo Porpora’s opera ‘Polifeme’.

Both these operas celebrate exotic, fantastic, symbolic and queer worlds, and both arias were sung by the famous castrato Carlo Broschi (Farinelli). The ‘Opera of the Nobility’ was a company set up, in London in the mid 1730s, to topple Handel from his position as chief opera composer. Farinelli was their star singer, and Hasse and Porpora the leading composers. The company bankrupted Handel and itself within four years. Handel subsequently diverted his energies to the composition of sacred oratorios.

This piece was commissioned by Trio Accanto with the support of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, and by AFEKT International New Music Festival, Tallinn.

Michael Finnissy


© Trio Accanto 2017