Lyra: A concerto for cello and orchestra. It is cast in a single movement divided into three main parts. The premiere performance was given by Oliver Coates and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Mark Bowden (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


The title lyra originates from an interest in Philip Pullman's trilogy of fantasy novels His Dark Materials. Lyra is the name of the wild protagonist in the story – a young girl who becomes caught up in a cosmic war. However the word lyra also refers to, amongst many other things, a constellation of stars, a bass viol from the seventeenth century and a class of Russian nuclear-powered submarines. Initially the work was intended to be in three distinct sections – each with their own title: vega, ayr and crush depth. During the process of composition however the material of these three sections became combined into a single movement structure.

The material created for vega reflects the luminosity of the principal star in the lyra constellation, which shares the same name, and is characterised by high, rapid writing for upper woodwinds, strings and bright metallic percussion. The song-like material for ayr was created using sonorities drawn from the particular tunings employed in lyra viol practice from the seventeenth century whilst the material created for crush depth is fast, sometimes violent, often low in register, and makes use of spatial scoring techniques in the string section.

These three types of material became juxtaposed and intertwined throughout the whole work creating a single musical expanse but it is still possible to detect three broad sections plus a coda in the work. The first section opens with a fast, high and bright texture featuring the soloist, high woodwinds, percussion and divisi strings. The second section begins with a piccolo duet over a murmuring harp and string chord and leads into various melodic passages featuring the soloist, cor anglais, bassoon and, later on, tuned gongs. A cadenza-like passage for the soloist and orchestral celli follows before the third section begins with a brief, transformed return of the opening material before launching into a pair of energetic orchestral tuttis.

The coda features an extreme example of scordatura for the soloist who is required to de-tune the C-string down almost a full octave, as if crushed by the force of the material that has gone before.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationVale of Glamorgan Festival, Cardiff
PublisherFirst performance: Oliver Coates, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Jean-Michaël Lavoie
Size19 minutes
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2011

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