I. Trafalgar Toccata; II. Serpentine Nightscape; III. Soho Stroll; IV. Vistas of Westminster

The orchestra has always been as natural a medium to Paul Patterson as the choir, and he has reserved some of the most wittily inventive of his recent music for it, as Festivo (1993), Songs from the West (1995) and the Four Rustic Sketches (1998) handsomely attest. But in earlier times, the orchestra was the repository of some of Patterson’s most challengingly exhilarating music, as one can hear in the Concerto for Orchestra no.1 (1980) and White Shadows on the Dark Horizon (1988). It is to this weightier, more densely worked manner that Patterson returns to in The City Within. It was commissioned by Westminster Council in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Music who, for their Millennial celebrations, requested a work reflecting Westminster’s status as the heart of London. It can therefore be regarded as a secular counterpart to Patterson’s earlier Millennium Mass. Providing a further connection between the two works is the conductor John Lubbock, who commissioned the Mass and who is the present work’s dedicatee.

Of all Westminster’s landmarks, none is more indelible than the Houses of Parliament’s massive bell tower Big Ben, aurally as well as visually owing to its Chimes. The City Within could be said to breathe the air of Westminster much in the way that Vaughan Williams’ A London Symphony breathes the air of London as a whole. Both works make use of the Big Ben Chimes,but whereas Vaughan Williams clearly isolates them from the rest of the music, thus drawing attention to them, Patterson’s use of them is both subtler and more thorough: they impregnate the work’s thematic fabric while remaining largely below the surface, thus mirroring the Chimes’ pervasiveness in Westminster life. Only twice do the Chimes emerge unencumbered: at the end of the first movement and at the end of the whole work.

Requiring a large orchestra including triple woodwinds, harp and several vanloads of percussion, The City Within weighs in at some 30 minutes’ duration, making it the largest of Patterson’s orchestral works to date.

The opening Trafalgar Toccata flings the listener straight into the hectic maelstrom of London life, all diamond-bright sonorities and crackling rhythms. Even when the music quietens in the central section, the pace doesn’t let up. But such a pitch of intensity cannot be sustained indefinitely, and all the movement’s accumulated tensions at last find release in a huge climax. Finally, the music disperses into silence and the stage is set for the second movement.
If the Trafalgar Toccata was all hustle-and-bustle in broad daylight, the ensuing Serpentine Nightscape is all nocturnal stasis. But while everything is still, it is by no means peaceful: a big city never sleeps. The omnipresent energy of the city is kept under repression, and only towards the end does it boil to the surface before retreating into night’s spectral cowl once more.

Soho Stroll acts as a bluesy intermezzo, effectively dissipating the tensions which the preceding movements built up. Reworking material from the early Comedy for Five Winds (1972), this is music that bespeaks big city suavity and sophistication.

The concluding Vistas of Westminster takes a broad, imposing stance, as befits a panoramic view of the City Within in all its panoply and magnificence. Quieter, more lyrical episodes offset the movement’s grander, more triumphal elements and at the very end, the Big Ben Chimes finally take centre stage, pealing away on bell-like brass in a blaze of orchestral splendour.

Paul Pellay


Written 2000

Symphony Orchestra. 3(3 dbl picc).3.3(2 dbl Ecl, 3 dbl Bcl).3(3 dbl Dbn)/
Length 30′

Commission: Westminster Council Millenium Commission
Dedication: ‘To Sean Gray’
Publisher: Josef Weinberger

Share This