Naiades (Fantasy-Sonata) - William Alwyn (1905-1985)



The English composer William Alwyn, who was also a flautist, pianist, poet, painter and translator, was professor of composition at the Royal Academy for over thirty years. He took his compositional technique extremely seriously, and virtually disowned all of his works which pre-dated the remarkable Divertimento, composed in 1939. This masterpiece, despite being written for unaccompanied flute, included passages written on two staves and even contains a fugue!

Naiades was written in 1972 for Christopher Hyde-Smith and Marisa Robles, and is one of the most substantial works ever written for flute and harp. It exploits the particular characteristics of the two instruments to the full: whilst far from easy to play, it demonstrates the composer's exceptional understanding of what each instrument can do most effectively. The title of the piece refers to the beautiful water-nymphs of Greek myth, who would drown those with whom they fell in love.

The work consists of an extended movement in sonata form. The long first subject is followed by a section which includes various "watery" motives and textures as well as a fanfare-like passage, before the romantic second subject in a well-defined E major - elsewhere the tonality is often somewhat volatile or ambiguous.

The development begins tentatively with the flute alone, experiments with the first subject in waltz-time, and then recalls the fanfare motive. After a ferocious cadenza-like passage the waltz returns to form the remainder of the development, now taking on a rather flirtatious character.

The recapitulation, as might be expected in a work of this period, does not literally repeat any of the exposition, but broadly follows the same sequence of material. The second subject now has a dream-like quality and ends pianissimo, with a sense of eternal peace. The piece ends with a brisk coda, building up to a spectacular conclusion.

Programme notes copyright David Sumbler 1998. You may use them elsewhere, but please credit the author, and also inform Aeolia by e-mail.

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