The capability of music to generate moments of calm, reflection and serenity can be deeply profound. Commissioned for Southbank Sinfonia, as part of the Nonclassical Associate Composer Scheme in 2021, Yfat Soul Zisso’s Breathless is a meditative work, based around notions of self-awareness and the need to pause every now and again to check our breathing and to re-centre ourselves. Human need for contemplation and calm arises throughout this Rush Hour programme as a recurrent consideration explored by all the featured composers.
Indeed, echoes of such yearning can certainly be heard in the work of Grace Williams, former pupil of Vaughan Williams, whilst at the Royal College of Music. Composed in London in 1944, her suite for string orchestra, Sea Sketches is a deeply evocative work that depicts various characteristics of the sea in every movement. It is thought to have been inspired by her memories of growing up in Wales by the sea and her feeling of belonging.
Premiered just the year before in June 1943 at The Royal Albert Hall, Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No 5 sees the composer return to a gentler, more serene style of composition. In contrast to the stormy dissonance of his previous symphony, he explores a radiant tonal palette with a sound far more like that of his nostalgic Pastoral Symphony, offering audiences a gift of emotional musical reflection.