2-picc-2-cor ang-2-bass cl-2-contrabsn / 4-3-3-1 / timps / 3 perc / cel / hp / strings
Commissioned by Symphony Australia for the Sydney Symphony with financial assistance from the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body
First performance by the Sydney Symphony conducted by Jeffrey Tate, Sydney Opera House, 1 August 2007
Headlong is my first piece for large orchestra in some years, and was a very great pleasure to write. Because it was always intended to be a celebratory piece, dedicated ‘to the Sydney Symphony on its 75th birthday’, I set out to display the orchestra as best I could, employing a wide range of orchestral possibility and colour, from individual instruments as well as sections. So on the face of it, Headlong is a show piece, quite short (seven or eight minutes), mainly energetic in nature but with a more tranquil episode in the middle. That, at least, is its outward structure.
At a deeper level, this piece is concerned with lyricism, and specifically with an unstoppable melodic line that runs headlong from one end of the piece to the other. I began by composing a continuous ‘tune’ of 75 notes, one for each year of the Sydney Symphony’s existence (to be honest, this was a coincidence). Playing it over on the piano, I discovered that the line of notes always seemed to lead back to the beginning, but a semitone higher. This, then, gave me my entire melodic line, and the complete melodic and harmonic shape of the piece.
Discussing his approach to drawing, the artist Paul Klee spoke of ‘taking a line for a walk’. My line does everything but walk. It leaps and lurches and staggers and struts, careering around all parts of the orchestra, ranging freely across its seven octave span. As it goes, it leaves behind its imprint, certain pitches tending to cling on even as the line shoots off in a new direction. In this way, the melodic line generates its own harmony, which hangs in the air like the vapour trail of a jet plane.