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Reliquary: BBC Radio 3 commission for the 2010 PromsAndante and Variations
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Schumann, orch. Robin Holloway: Reliquary - Scenes from the life of Mary Queen of Scots enclosing an instrumentation of Robert Schumann's Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op. 135 is a BBC Proms Commission, first performed at the Royal Albert Hall, London by Dorothea Röschmann (soprano) with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.


The emergency of 2009 was a further BBC Proms commission (following the Fifth Concerto for Orchestra), received relatively late on 2009, to mark the bi-centenary of Schumann's birth the following year: an invitation to score his last song-cycle, the Five Poems of Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots. This project didn't initially appeal—in all its modesty, it didn't seem that interesting, nor even worthwhile. What did appeal was the possibility of expanding Schumann's spare, frugal material, enclosing the songs within a prologue and farewell for orchestra alone, and also adding instrumental entr'actes between some of the original numbers.

The resulting entity, Reliquary, op. 109, was completed early in 2010. Scenes from the life of the fated Queen, wherein Schumann's five songs are contained, displayed against a new setting, as the precious remains within a medieval surround. The whole makes a kind of muted complement to the Fantasy Pieces of 1971, wherein Schumann's Liederkreis, op. 24 on poems by Heine, is heard complete within instrumental commentary expanding and branching out from the same musical material.

Another hommage to Schumann for his bi-centenary is simpler and more practical. Everyone who knows them adores his Andante and Variations in B-flat for two pianos, op. 46. Everyone who tries to play them regrets the clotted textures, the redundant doublings, the way the two instruments alternate the often awkwardly difficult material rather than sharing and intermeshing. I've opened out and simplified the textures, and restored several variations from an earlier version, including the two cellos and a horn, which Schumann subsequently dropped. Here and there, the tempatation to expand, enhance and otherwise gild the lovely piece in my own way proved irresistible: all within the spirit if not the letter of the original.

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