Howard Skempton – One for the Road

by 5:4

Today’s Advent Calendar work is one of Webernesque miniature proportions. Composed in 1976, Howard Skempton‘s One for the Road for solo accordion is a typically strange piece, full of paradoxes. In a not dissimilar way to a more recent work like Oculus, Skempton’s material is obsessive, cycling around a single idea in such a way that it never seems like it’s exactly repeating (because it’s not), appearing to sound neither resolved nor unresolved, while conveying a tone that feels simultaneously amusing and sombre.

Structured like a series of inhalations and exhalations – governed by the in and out of the accordion’s bellows – each in-breath begins from an A⁷ chord, progressing to indicate a perfect cadence to D major. The out-breaths undermine this, also beginning A⁷ but shifting via C to end on G⁷ – an imperfect cadence and as such a point of complete non-finality that only wants to carry on back where we started. Another in-breath, just as before; another out-breath, though now the harmonies are twisted round in the most mischievous way, beginning in C and continuing to a cadence of D⁷-Gm⁷ – on the one hand an almost perfect cadence, though again lacking finality, being another 7th chord and also exactly the same chord with which the first out-breath ended. Once again the music wants to carry on back where it started.

Add into the mix a plethora of chromatic false relations (F/F♯ and B/B♭) that interfere with and further obscure this already weird circular flexing, and what Skempton has created is a kind of hermetically-sealed bubble of harmonic obliquity, perpetually swaying backwards and forwards. When things are as slurred and tottering as this, perhaps having one for the road isn’t such a good idea after all.

This performance of One for the Road was given by – who else? – the composer on 12 June 2016, as the final encore at a BCMG concert marking the end of Stephen and Jackie Newbould’s time as artistic directors of the ensemble.


Score


Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Click here to respond and leave a commentx
()
x