Nicholas Maw: Roman Canticle

Program Note

Nicholas Maw (1935-2009)
Roman Canticle (1991)

Nicholas Maw was one of the leading post-war British composers of orchestral music and a pivotal figure in the neo-Romantic revival. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Lennox Berkeley and Paul Steinitz, and in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Max Deutsch. Maw’s breakthrough work was Scenes and Arias, premiered at the BBC Proms. Acclaim for the score's lyricism and expressivity led to two operas, One Man Show and the Glyndebourne commission The Rising of the Moon. His primary influences from the Romantic tradition include Brahms, Bruckner and Strauss.

"I'm becoming more and more concerned with what music has lost, with the things a composer can't do anymore. I want to be able to do them again...There was a break in the natural tradition around 1914, for obvious social and political reasons...It seems that I am trying to regain that tradition." — Nicholas Maw

Roman Canticle is scored for mezzo-soprano, flute, viola, and harp, the instrumental combination used by Debussy in his 1917 Sonata. Nicholas Maw first heard Browning’s poem Two in the Campagna read by English actor Sir John Gielgud some years ago, and it made a deep impression on him. Maw later visited Italy and fell in love with Rome and its surrounding countryside—the Campagna—just as Browning had a century earlier. The work is dedicated to the composer’s daughter Natasha and her husband Paul, who were married in Italy in 1996.