Ultramarine

for brass quintet

Ian Stephens

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Composer Ian Stephens
ISMN

9790570680375

Composer

Year of Composition

Instrumentation

, , ,

Duration

11'

Student Difficulty

Categories (all composers) , , , , ,
Catalogue ID ce-is1u1

Notes

Ultramarine is a rich shade of dark blue that was highly valued in the early Renaissance. From the Latin ultramarinus, its name means ‘beyond the sea’ for a very literal reason: it was imported into Europe by sea from Asia. The source of ultramarine is the mineral lapis lazuli, mined from a single source in what is now the north-east of Afghanistan, and more expensive than gold. From the 12th century, the robes of the Virgin Mary were often painted with ultramarine.

In Ultramarine I explore the journey of this blue from its source to its final use. At the heart of the piece is a series of widely-spaced four-part chords, each of which contains an element of symmetry. To my mind these chords represent the colour blue, trapped deep in rock. The two ensuing melodies – based on an ancient Afghan tune and a Persian dance tune – signify the journey to the west. A rhapsodic section, with the music moving from a single line to a richly textured activity and back again, signifies the transformation from rock to pigment. The ‘Maria’ music, first heard on the horn, is a collection of four settings of the word ‘Maria’ from Gregorian chant. The four ‘Maria’ melodies intertwine, and blend with the blue chords and the Afghan tune.