Aurora (Arcades Ambo)
for viola & alto recorder
Programme note

Originating in the seventh Eclogue of Virgil, the Latin term ‘arcades ambo’ indicates two individuals of simple character, the literal translation being ‘Arcadians both’. Historically, the natives of pastoral Arcady (the poetic name for Arkadia, in southern Greece) were the least intellectual of all Greeks. With its emphasis on bucolic simplicity and naïveté, the phrase is fundamental to my musical conception.

The music is presented as a series of interlocking tableaux, preceded by a solo for the viola, as a kind of prologue to the work. The general tone and direction of Aurora is aptly summarised in the following quotation from Oscar Wilde's De Profundis, which appears at the head of the score:

“Had our life together been as the world fancied it to be, one of pleasure, profligacy and laughter, I would not be able to recall a single passage in it. It is because it was full of moments and days tragic, bitter, sinister in their warnings, dull or dreadful in their monotonous scenes and unseemly violences, that I can see or hear each separate incident in its detail…”

The qualification ‘ambo’ (=‘both’) must be borne in mind, however; the piece is not simply polemic, but an elaborate observation, expressed with love.

“…Aurora for alto recorder and viola seemed both stronger, yet paradoxically more fragile than at its first performance in Birmingham last month. All credit, then, to Phillip Burton and Philip Hickman whose dual empathy continues to reveal evermore layers within this impeccably conceived series of tableaux.”
Richard Leigh Harris, The Birmingham Post, 18 July 1997