snapshot of score of Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities

for trumpet, trombone and orchestra — 1987, rev. 2001

After Håkan Hardenberger’s very successful performance of my Trumpet Concerto with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band at the BBC in Manchester, I asked the conductor Elgar Howarth if there was anything for trumpet, trombone and orchestra, and told him about my idea for a piece based on Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities. He told me about Håkan’s compatriot Christian Lindberg, and that they had been wanting something to do together. And so it came to pass...

I was intrigued by Calvino’s extraordinary novel, and in particular its structure — and even the table of contents. The book is divided into nine main sections, each bracketed by dialogues between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. In between the dialogues are Polo’s descriptions of wholly imaginary and fantastic cities, headed according to categories: ‘Cities and the Sky’, ‘Thin Cities’ and so on. In the very baldest terms, in my piece the trumpet represents Marco Polo, the trombone Kublai Khan and the orchestra is the cities. To follow the book’s structure slavishly, however, would result in a ridiculous number of short sections one after the other. Instead, I chose to overlap them, building up to a maximum of four layers at the orchestral climax of the piece, after which the layers fall away again.

After the initial performances and broadcasts, Hardenberger and Lindberg asked me to ‘give them more to do’ — in the original version, they stop playing and sit down for three quite long periods: shortly after the introduction, in the middle of the piece when the orchestra goes ballistic, and shortly before the end. They were happy to leave the orchestra to it in the middle but wanted more material in the other two gaps. I was reluctant initially, as I felt it went against the structure of the piece (and the book) but in 2001 I produced a revised score with added material which I marked ‘optional’ in these passages (and took the opportunity to tweak the orchestration here and there, in particular giving the contrabass clarinet a little more exposure), but so far this version has not been performed.

It is my biggest and most ambitious work, 48 minutes long, with extremely virtuosic parts for the two soloists.

Score extract (PDF)


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