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 was my first piece for large orchestra in some years, and 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.
Receiving its premiere, Headlong, by Andrew Ford . . . progressed in its eight-minute span from an opening where the musical ideas were scattered around the orchestra, diffuse and ungraspable, through a warmer, more collected slow section to a close of increasing resolve, ending on a blazing major chord. In terms of its overall shape it reminded me of Sibelius's last symphony, where things progress with teleological inevitability towards an emphatic point. As with much of Ford's recent music, the scoring was assured, colourful and subtle.
Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald
Ford says that the work is concerned with lyricism; it has an unstoppable melodic line running through it . . . The musical line fizzes and zigzags around the orchestra, as Ford imaginatively employs sudden dynamic changes and striking colouristic juxtapositions.
Murray Black, The Australian
Ford’s Headlong was written for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 75th birthday in 2006, but revised last year as the composer felt it was too – well – headlong! Beginning with a great clanging of bells and brass, it’s a dynamic work with lashings of tuned percussion, that settles down in its ravishing central section with harps and shimmering strings supporting some highly attractive writing for bass clarinet and cor anglais. With the orchestra on fine form, Northey gave it a scrupulously balanced reading. With occasional echoes of Berg and Stravinsky, it’s a colourful score full of structural interest and invention, and one well worth reviving.
Clive Paget, Limelight