Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Solo
Instrumentation: Piano
Length: 12 minutes
Commissioned by: Sonorites Festival at Queen’s
Premiere: 11 May 2001, Harty Room, Queens University, Belfast. Andrew Zolinsky


The Big Sky was composed during a three-month residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada where I was a recipient of an Arts Council of Northern Ireland Arts Award.  Alberta is a place of extremes – blistering winters and forbidding mountains giving way to blinding sunshine and endless prairie grasslands.  But there is one constant – an umbrella of expansive sky.  From this image of contrast and vastness came two musical concepts – the sudden change of texture and the contrast of stark dynamics.

The quiet opening gently unfolds a series of eleven pitches which provide the harmonic and melodic shape throughout.  This melodic line is frequently heard in unison, developed into canons and occasionally accompanied by stride-like bass ostinatos.  Different melodic sequences imposed on each other create the harmonic material for a series of light staccato chords and a passage of repetitive, aggressive harmonies.  Material is constantly re-introduced and re-invented.  A second quiet section, full of gesture and spaciousness, is occasionally interrupted by flighty short phrases that emerge and disappear.  Finally, a counterpoint of the principal musical ideas results in a frenzied burst of energy which brings the piece to an abrupt end.

The Big Sky was subsequently performed by David Brophy at the 2002 Boyle Arts Festival and by Kathleen Boyd at the 2003 Bank of Ireland Mostly Modern Series.


Performed by:
Andrew Zolinsky