The Welcome Arrival of Rain (2001–2)
One of the stories nature has for a composer ready to listen is of abundance achieved out of austerity: shoots nurtured by the soil and transformed into leaves and flowers. This exceptionally richly scored piece, for a densely bright orchestra including triple woodwind, four trumpets and horns but no lower brass, derives all of its material from just a few simple melodic figures outlined at the beginning. The music evolves in a succession of episodes which seem each to grow out of the last, so that – like the annual Indian monsoon rains which inspired the piece’s title – its conclusion is experienced as both surprising and necessary.
The piece is essentially melodic, and like a plainchant or a raga it sets out from a distinctive opening figure, a modal melodic cell of just four pitches (C–D–G–F sharp, with the C and the F subject to chromatic alteration as the piece progresses). However layered and complex the piece becomes, this figure will remain audible – as it does when, after the opening’s stark alternations of brass flurries and held string chords, it is taken up by the strings as the basis for a long melodic line which rises repeatedly from the orchestra’s warm middle register and is embedded in a florid texture of doublings, glissandi and rising scale patterns.
Two important new, albeit related, motifs are introduced: a threefold tumble of demisemiquavers which checks the string melody’s increasingly elaborate progress, and a folky rising figure of five notes in low clarinets and violas. Gradually the organ-like timbres of massed wind come to predominate, until the music is energised by the sudden entrance of a tabla-like percussion section of rototoms, tomtoms and timpani whose complex interlocking rhythms continue below a high, teetering clarinet solo and come to rest as the brass and echoing strings re-enter with a quasi-recapitulation of the opening.
Time feels suspended in these imposing blocks of sound, but in fact the work’s tempo has been gradually increasing throughout, a process disguised here by the use of longer note-values for the recapitulated material. The same technique allows Weir to produce the illusion of a music proceeding at two speeds simultaneously when the brass and strings give way to a trio of humorously marching bassoons overlaid with the return of other materials from earlier in the piece – the tumbling figure in upper woodwind, fragments of rising melody in the horns, and the rain-dance of the drums. Unable to contain its joyous momentum any longer, the work climaxes in an energetically contrapuntal tutti (the entire orchestra playing together for the first time), and it remains only for a solo trumpet and oboe to invoke the magical shower of rain promised all along.