Iapetus Suture

for saxophone quartet

Richard Whalley

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for saxophone quartet

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Composer Richard Whalley
Year of Composition 2016
Duration 16'-18'
ISMN 9790570682225
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-rw1is1


The Iapetus Suture is a major geological fault that lies deep below the Earth’s surface, and was formed when the continents of Laurentia and Avalonia collided about 300 million years ago, squeezing out the ancient Iapetus Ocean to form the super-continent (when all the Earth’s landmasses combined to form a single continent) Pangaea. Although the Iapetus Ocean was situated in the southern hemisphere, the continents have since shifted, and the current location of the Iapetus Suture coincides roughly with the English-Scottish border. In fact, the shapes of the mountains and uplands of Northern England / Southern Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland) owe a lot to this collision.

This composition takes its structure from a geological cross section going from Southern Scotland, through the Lake District into Northern England, and the suture can be heard as a new type of music appears from beneath the old, about a third of the way through the piece. The musical material itself owes a lot to the landscape of the Lake District (specifically the view from the top of Coniston Old Man), and a quest to find sonic analogies with geological processes, for example by building the timbre of the saxophone from scratch following the extreme destructive power of continents grinding into one another.

This piece is dedicated to my mother, Judith Whalley, who is a keen amateur geologist (and understands the subject much better than I do). It was composed for the Ebonit Saxophone Quartet, who premiered it in Paris on 7th April, 2016.