A Viola on Skye was inspired by a trip to Scotland that included a stay on the Isle of Skye in the depths of winter. The initial sketches for the work were made at the time, influenced by the bleak, barren but richly hued landscape. This is personified by the characteristic timbre of the instrument and accounts for the particular sweep and colour of the music.
The work falls naturally into two parts and can be described as a transition from complexity to simplicity. The first is characterized by a great variety of activity – agitated configurations, short melodic phrases, alternations of sul pont, pizzicato, arco, tremolo and so on. The structure is loosely based on a twelve note series and features a series of twelve groups. These are short sections of music, each emphasising one of the notes of the series. There are only four types of groups used so the first part of the work can be heard as three related variations. The second part of the work uses the series material melodically. It opens with these notes presented in the order and registers established in the preceding part. Ultimately this develops into an extended melodic line with the close of the work attaining the ultimate in simplicity – a repeated note.
This piece was inspired by the beguiling sounds of the aeolian harp to which I was first introduced by Chris Cree Brown. Said to have been first ‘discovered’ by the ancient Greeks, aeolian harps are intended to be played not by human hands, but by the wind. The strings vibrates through a range of harmonics creating an eerie effect difficult to describe.
Written for Gavin Saunders, who planned to spend some months on the island of Lifou (French Caledonia) exchanging his music with that of his hosts. Farquhar’s idea was to provide an opportunity for the Lifouans to collaborate in the piece by providing a rhythmic background (clapping), and then taking over the piece to a rousing climax at the end.