Ajante (2010-12)

Duration: 14 minutes

Four pianists at two pianos


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Programme Note

Ajante is the first piece composed using a radical new harmonic technique known as 'Charltonality'. The technique was developed from 2008 onwards, but owing to its highly complex nature it was three years before the first composition to exploit it finally came to fruition.

The title is the plural of 'Ajax', and refers to the two Greek mythological characters called Ajax: Ajax the Greater and Ajax the Lesser. The technique produces a rich and highly original harmonic language characterised by unusual progressions, a huge range of chromatic, dissonant, added note and bitonal harmonies that recall Stravinsky, Messiaen, Berg and Jazz, innovative chord spacings and a wide range of textures that encompass the whole range of the piano. Indeed, the harmonies are so rich and strangely spaced that four pianists and two pianos are necessary for the work to be performed.

The work is often percussive, with a strong rhythmic impetus, but is balanced by more delicate and lyrical sections. The material is generally episodic, but the work is unified by a rondo-like recurring theme and a form that loosely follows the overall shape of a symphony.

The opening section, alternating between triple and duple metre, begins with the rondo like idea - a scotch snap rhythm in parallel semitones - which grows and develops, culminating in a rapid figuration and a repeated bitonal chord. The music then subsides and builds again over an ostinato figure, ending with a fortissimo passage of rich, repeated chords and the return of the motto theme.

The second section is fast and rhythmic, marked by many changes of metre and frequent contrasts of texture. Its progress is interrupted by a processional that perhaps recalls an idea from the second movement of Debussy's Noctures. Contrapuntal textures in the upper register gradually descend and wind down, as the scherzo-like section fizzles out.

Calmer, more lyrical, yet brooding music, against the backdrop of a lilting, ostinato-like accompaniment, ushers in a reflective passage that mirrors the emotional content, if not the tempo of the slow movement of a symphony. After a climax, in which the rondo theme is again stridently heard, the music subsides, culminating in a gentle passage of falling repeated chords, before gradually rebuilding momentum, becoming faster, louder and more fraught.

A trill and a descending scale lead to the final section, which recapitulates the music that opened the work but now integrated into a brilliant, fortissimo, chorale-like passage that encompases the full range of the pianos, interpolated with rapid, vertiginous figuration.

Copyright Alan Charlton 2001 all rights reserved
Last revised 9 October 2009 www.alancharlton.com