There is something dark and intensely personal about the sounds of the viola and bass. In their most traditional roles, the two instruments dispense with virtuosic display and have a far more subtle (but no less influential) role in shaping the music they play. Compared with the violin or the cello, their role tends to be less “extroverted”, more supportive.
However, far from being deferential and lacking personality, both instruments encompass seemingly contradictory qualities and are capable of extremes. They have an enormous range, both in terms of the notes they can play and the colors they can create, but also of the emotions they can express. They possess an innate quality of introspection and fragility, but also of enormous energy and power: power that emanates from both beneath and within.
The Duo, then, is an attempt to capture these sometimes opposing qualities of darkness, introspection, fragility and raw power. The outer sections are delicate, crystalline and spacious – they have a sense of melancholic lyricism and often yearn for timelessness, for eternity. The brief, tumultuous middle section is untamed, raw and claustrophobic. It explodes violently out of the quiet that surrounds it, fully formed, incapable of being contained.
The tumult ends as suddenly as it begins, unresolved, leading directly into a quiet, uneasy calm that recalls the first section, but at a distance. The music does not attempt to resolve either its own contradictions or that of the two instruments. There are no easy answers, no neat ending which wraps everything into a tidy resolution. Only faint memories, dissipating gestures, vague sensations and unanswered questions…
The Duo for Viola and Bass was commissioned by and composed for violist Heidi von Bernewitz and bassist Robert Nairn.