Les Adieux

Richard Whalley (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition

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This work was premiered in August 2019 in Cissé, France, performed by the composer (piano) and violinist Eric Robberecht.

Written as a response to the 2016 UK referendum on European Union membership, this piece’s primary research aim was to investigate ways of representing musically both the complexities governing the working together of the EU’s 28 members and the timeline tracing its development as constituent countries joined.

The structural framework built on the composer’s research methodologies concerning musical representation of landscape – alongside works including Finnissy’s Red Earth and Banumbirr – by plotting large-scale proportions representing as ratios the years when new nations joined the EU. Above this, polytextural effects superimposed three different elements: a polymetric pulsating template – informed by Nancarrow’s Player Piano Studies – placing rhythmic values in complex ratios; extended klangfarbenmelodie consisting of 28 notes each of distinct character, timbre and pitch; and a chain of very short fragments developed from each of the 28 national anthems, alongside quotations from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 81a, (‘Les Adieux’) and the Ode to Joy, all used as signifiers for the EU and its member states. Here the methodology drew on musical collage techniques – used, for example, in Ives’s Fourth Symphony, Central Park in the Dark and Berio’s Sinfonia – to draw together diverse source materials coherently. The polytexturalism introduced within both piano and violin parts focused on using the physical capabilities of each instrument to characterise the narrative.

The research provided insights into the importance for achieving coherence of retaining recognisable musical features within a musical landscape where reference is made to a multitude of musical sources; it also revealed the potential of polymetre to control density of material, alongside long-term harmonic progressions constructed by attaching musical quotations to slower-moving harmonic sequences, as two unifying elements that can help to achieve coherence within such complexity.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOnline
PublisherComposers Edition
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2019
EventConcert en nos Villages concert - L'Eglise Saint-Pierre-es-Liens, Cisse, France
Duration: 13 Aug 2019 → …


  • Composition
  • Violin
  • Piano
  • European Union
  • Polytexture
  • Polymetre
  • Polyrhythm
  • Musical layering
  • National Anthems
  • Beethoven


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