On the Shoulders of Giants
Instrumentation: *2222/4231/timp., 2 perc., hp./strgs.
Composition Date: 2000/01
Commissioned: Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Premiered: by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Grzegorz Nowak conductor, on Friday
January 12th, 2001 at the Francis Winspear Centre for Music, Edmonton, Alberta,
Winner of the 2002 Winnipeg Symphony’s Canadian Composers Competition
I came across the phrase "on the shoulders of giants" a few years ago while reading an article on the current generation of jazz musicians. The article pointed out that these young musician’s where gaining much of their attention by standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before them. At the time I thought this was a very "catchy" phrase that might someday make a good title for a work, so I filed it away for an appropriate occasion.
Three years ago my father retired and as we sat around celebrating this event the conversation naturally turned to some of the jobs he and my mother had done. As they described these jobs it occurred to me that each one had its own rhythm and as they moved on in their lives the rhythm of each job got faster. It was then that I began to think about a piece that would reflect this increasing rhythmic activity. It also occurred to me that I had found the "giants" whose shoulders I had been standing on my entire life.
The piece is divided into three sections each representing a different occupation. The first section paints the picture of working in the coal mines of Scotland, which my father did early in his life. It starts with a gesture representing the sound of a work whistle that is followed by a series of chords that descend to the lowest end of the orchestra. The rest of this section is a slow ascent out of those depths.
The second section was inspired by a job both my parents had. The town in Scotland where I was born produced lace as its main industry and one of the images I liked was that of the "shuttle," a large needle like device used to weave the thread, flying back and forth on the looms. During this section a rising figure re-occurs to illustrate this gesture.
Both my parent's last jobs had a high degree of speed associated with them. My father took vibration readings from large machines and my mother worked in the fastest of all field's telecommunication. The last section of this piece focuses on this speed by creating a sense of perpetual motion.
Finally, in the first and last sections a melody appears, entitled "Valentines Lament," which pays homage to Scotland, our place of birth. As you may have guessed, this work is dedicated to my parents Ian and Margaret Gilliland.