Obbligati III, Op. 20

scoring: trumpet, clarinet, cor anglais soloists, 16 players
(2 flutes, oboe, clarinet (bass clarinet), 2 horns, 2 bassoons (contra), perc, harp, piano, 3 celli, 2 basses)

duration: 21'

composed: 1971

commissioned by the London Sinfonietta

publication in progress...


First performance: 14 April 1971, London Sinfonietta with soloists Elgar Howarth, Antony Pay, Janet Craxton, conducted by David Atherton



programme note:

During the last few years it has been my practice to place together under a single title a number of separate pieces which have in common some purely musical element, whether in terms of formal relationship, instrumental resource, or type of expressive articulation. In the case of the continuing series entitled Obbligati, the concertante style, never very far away in much of my music is quite prominently displayed, though in very different terms from work to work: In Obbligati I, first performed in America in 1966, the thirteen players are all soloists, and produce among themselves a frequently dense fabric of highly independent lines, as well as various types of solo writing with accompaniment. In Obbligati II, for five players with electronic sounds and recordings of their own playing, their activity is given a new dimension, in that it is heard refracting, condensing and expanding against a background now identical, now dissimilar; this work was written for the Pierrot Players and was heard at the concert given to inaugurate the British Society for Electronic Music on 30th June 1969.

In Obbligati III, the nature of the commission dictated the distribution of forces;  I was asked to write for three soloists, trumpet, clarinet, and cor anglais with total forces resembling as nearly as possible those needed for the Brahms serenade. Inasmuch as it is a work for windband supported by string basses it can, unlike the others in the set, claim a certain kinship with the classical serenade, in which a concertante element of some sort is not infrequently found in the context of short sectional movements.

Obbligati III is in seven sections, the last of which forms a cadenza-like structure resuming some of the events of earlier sections, which alternate faster and slower tempi. The first section introduces the participants; the second is dominated by the trumpet, supported by the other soloists; the third is an adagio, while the fourth 1s again in a brisk tempo. The fifth section begins with a solo for cor anglais, and consists of two paragraphs each of which is repeated in a varied form This leads to the six section, which is a brief passacaglia in which the ensemble repeats its material with a constant increase in speed, while the soloists pursue their own way without repetition. After a brief pause the final part of the work begins with a massive chord, which is gradually eroded into individual cadenzas for everyone, and the conclusion is a slow overlapping of previously separated events.

Justin Connolly


other comments:

The manuscript was lost for 5 decades, and has been found by the admirable archivists of the Oxford University Press


Programme note, duration: original timed programme in South Bank Centre archive.