A commission from and for Yorkshire orchestras demands a Yorkshire hero - who better than York-born, Coxwold and Stillington resident Lawrence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy - a novel I have been trying to turn into an opera since 1981. After writing THE ABBESS OF ANDOUILLETS, I’LL STAKE MY CREMONA TO A JEW’S TRUMP and NOSE-LIST SONG in the 80s, it was a pleasure to have an excuse to return to Sterne’s novel with an orchestral work which, however, explodes the rather well-behaved, quasi 18th century feel of my earlier Tristram Shandy settings. And - as with Cremona - the subject is death (as it is in a considerable part of my output - for example, SONGS FOR TONY, TANGO FOR TIM, MEMORIAL, TO MORROW and so on) as it is conjured up by Sterne in Book VII, Chapter 1:
‘When DEATH himself knocked at my door - ye bad him come again; and in so gay a tone of careless indifference, did ye do it, that he doubted of his commission.....then by heaven! I will lead him a dance he little thinks of....’
The work is in three movements of which the outer two are both fast and possibly dance-like. The third movement is linked to the second by a common augmented 4th bass part and to the first by the use of identical percussion rhythms (which refuse to conform to rhythmic straightjackets).
© Michael Nyman