= Quintet – Nigel Morgan


For Piano and Winds


It seems curious that one of Mozart’s finest and most innovative chamber works should not have encouraged composers from later generations to write further pieces for the same combination of instruments. Stravinsky notably brought the piano together with the large wind ensemble (his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov composed a large-scale Piano Quintet but replaced the oboe with a flute). Francis Poulenc and John McCabe wrote substantial sextets. But mostly we hear Mozart’s Quintet KV 452 and occasionally Beethoven’s early essay in the medium.‘I have composed two grand concertos and then I composed a quintet, which produced the very greatest applause. I  consider the (piano) quintet to be the best work I have ever composed. It is written for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and pianoforte. I wish you could have heard it yourself. And how beautifully it was performed!’ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, from a letter of 10th April 1784 to his father in Salzburg



My contemporary offering to this chamber genre came about by accident rather than intention. After a particularly languorous summer afternoon beside a river in the Yorkshire Dales I had written a poem in three sections: the first a veritable stream of consciousness in which words flowed almost in real time from the pen uninhibited by grammar, structure or reflective thought; the second and third, more considered and dreamlike, progressed away from the present dayto the setting of my novel Summoning the Recluse in 6th century China. Indeed, this poem entitled The Kiss provided a device to ‘disappear’ the 21st century narrative that is present in the opening third of the book.



An example of word-pitch conversion in Quintet.

Since 2008 much of my own poetry has underscored and often been present in many of my compositions. In Quintet ofthe poem literally ‘makes the music’. Using the symbolic algorithmic software that I co developed in the 1990s I have made this seamless and flowing text into a stream of musical phrases. Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions and pronouns are processed in a variety of different ways. All generate pitchmaterial directly from the letters of words themselves. Each word delivers its own harmony and by virtue of its length and incidence defines a unique harmonic structure and rhythm.




The piano in this composition flows uninterrupted throughout almost the entire movement, beginning and ending the work with solo music. The winds play around this source; reflecting, amplifying, varying, extending. Combinations of wind and piano constantly change: from quintet to quartet to trios and duos. Although the text lacks a grammatical structure a name, often entreated,rhapsodized upon, repeated like a mantra or incantation, defines these changing sections of instrumental colour.




As I played with the idea of a text to ‘summon up music’ it was the flow and harmonic resonance of the piano set alongside the precise though varied types of wind instrument articulation that brought me to the final instrumentation of a Quintet for Piano and Winds. Reading the score of Mozart’s Eb flat KV 452 Quintet I became haunted by the three-fold opening subject to the extent that such a device has become embedded in the structure of my own work. My Quintet is presented here as a single movement composition of some 12 minutes, a companion piece for ensembles performing the Mozart or Beethoven Quintets.


Study Score [pdf]

Parts [zip]

Reference Recording [mp3]