Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Ensemble
Instrumentation: Flute/alto, clarinet/bass, violin, cello and vibraphone
Length: 13 minutes
Commissioned by: Concorde
Premiere: 12 May 2002, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.


The subtle lower resonance and rich tone of the alto flute with its transparent accompaniment, firstly featuring vibraphone, then cello and bass clarinet, shows a controlled gesture with a rich variety of texture and line.  Chordal phrases contrast with dense textural waves of motion while a flowing vibraphone line reappears later, now harmonically condensed.

Energetic movement dominates the second half as angular unison lines rumble their way in various directions.  A central section gradually accelerates to a stammering ‘quartet versus vibraphone’ argument.  A coda shimmers and pulses to the end.

The title Calligraphy comes from a quote by the Canadian writer J E Weaver: “I noticed how the wind changed the colours of the grasses as it wove them together and moved them in rhythms of line and I saw a tangle of winter prairie grass making spare calligraphy in the wind”.

Douglas Sealy, Irish Times:

“Elaine Agnew’s Calligraphy clings to the lower registers, with much use of the alto flute, bass clarinet and cello.  The violin and vibraphone throws gleams into the dark as the melodic line travels through the shades of the valley, seriously but with an occasional skip and jump, before emerging on a high plateau for a brief and bright rhythmic interlude.  The angularity of much modern music is absent and the melodic cells develop and repeat most satisfyingly.”