Sciamachy

for chamber orchestra

Emma-Ruth Richards

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Composer Emma-Ruth Richards
Composer

Year of Composition

Instrumentation

Duration

ca. 14'

Student Difficulty

Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-err1s2

Notes

/SAɪˈÆMƏKɪ/
noun (pl) -chies
(rare) fighting your shadow

The word sciamachy comes from the seventeenth century Greek skiamakhia – a battle against imaginary enemies, from skia (a shadow) + makhesthai (to fight) – but perhaps literally “fighting in the shade”.

Sciamachy is for brass, percussion, harp, piano and strings, and journeys through varying fields of peace, conflict and resolution. The piece opens with material that is intended to foreshadow, or summarise, the conflict that is to come later in the work. Ethereal and hauntingly distorted melodies start to appear and disappear behind a firstly unobtrusive but tightly controlled rhythmic and harmonic background. As the piece moves forward this material develops into more of a virtuosic continuum where most of the
ensemble functions like a mechanical system attempting to ‘strangle’ or ‘capture’ the solo, more melodic strands. Each of the single lines struggle to grow through and out of the shadows leading to furious explosions that extinguish the rest of the ensemble. The light they emit however doesn’t illuminate and their brightness just serves to intensify the surrounding darkness.

Knowing that Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms was to accompany the premiere of this work I have chosen to mirror the composer’s hopes for brotherhood and peace by integrating the boy treble solo (Adonai ro-i, Psalm 23) from the second movement into my work; in rare moments of quiescence fragments of this solo can be heard layered within short passages of choral-esque string writing and in some of the trumpet and violin solos. I have also been drawn to Bernstein’s use of motivic repetition which creates a sense of hallowed rite and so my piece does eventually, momentarily, transform into a peaceful world of bells and a sense of fragile detachment once again resurfaces.