Image, Reflection, Shadow

For instrumental ensemble


37 minutes




Commissioned by





Flute (+ piccolo and alto flute), clarinet in A (+ bass clarinet), cimbalom, piano, violin, cello


1. Adagio
2. Allegro
3. Lento; Allegro


Composer Notes

Programme Notes

Short Note by Paul Griffiths

This is a companion piece to ‘Ave Maris Stella’ in being a major work of unconducted chamber music for The Fires of London. But the marimba is replaced at the centre by the jangling sound of the cimbalom, and the music generally is of a more exuberant and extrovert, even dance-like character. The title does not refer to the three movements – which are a lyrical opening, a scherzo and a quick finale emerging out of a slow movement – but rather to the play throughout of mirror and copy, not least in the writing for three duos of strings, woodwinds and piano/percussion.

Extended Note by Stephen Pruslin

‘Ave Maris Stella’ suggested a rich ground for further exploration. Seven years later, Maxwell Davies reaped his own harvest in Image, Reflection, Shadow. The later work retains the premise of unconducted performance but arrives at a sound-picture of vastly increased effloresence.

As in’ Ave Maris’, the instrumental sextet of Image is often divided into three duos, flute/clarinet, violin/cello, and piano/percussion, with the bright-toned marimba now replaced by the plangent cimbalom of the traditional Hungarian gypsy band. Again, the pitched percussion instrument figures equally and very largely in the musical argument, and again, together with its partner the piano, it faces the highest instrumental hurdles, while the meeting of rhythmic demands is shared among the six players, and constitutes the work’s ultimate virtuosity. The legitimate question of whether the cimbalom’s music constitutes a solo part can for once be correctly answered both yes and no. It is in essence a concertante part, which dominates through its unusual timbre and by virtue of its two cadenzas. However, to infer that the cimbalom is a leading voice whenever it plays would not only be unjust to the collective performing enterprise, but would seriously misrepresent the work’s musical layering.

Although it enhances our experience of Image, Reflection, Shadow to hear it as a ‘sequel’ to ‘Ave Maris Stella’, the two works are at the same time unmistakably different in character. Despite the presence of much fast and dynamic music, ‘Ave Maris’ is an inward-looking work, a meditation on time and death. Image is altogether more extrovert, its slow music luminous rather than elegiac, its fast music perky rather than violent. Maxwell Davies has enshrined the relationship between the two works inside the music itself: at the end of the lyrical first movement of Image, he refers to the climax of the earlier work, in which a long, deeply ‘inhaled’ ostinato passage finally explodes with shattering intensity. But this re-experiencing is also an exorcism, after which the work can follow its own course.

With the opening of the second movement, we have a palpable sense of the music turning on its axis to reveal fresh vistas. This is a large-scale scherzo, which first peaks in a short cimbalom cadenza, then builds in an even larger arc to a huge climax. After a moment of total repose, the movement dissolves in a shadowy coda. The shift of horizon between the first and second movements took place in the silence between them, but in the third movement, a change of vista occurs during the music itself. It begins in slow and nostalgic vein, then undergoes a ‘Sibelian’ formal transformation into a fast movement whose dance-like rhythm and orgiastic coloration evokes Davies’s ballet, Salome. This main Allegro arrives at an ‘inverse’ climax in a deeply meditative candenza for the cimbalom, which then releases into a final momentum that hurls the work over a precipice. Against a background of distant resonance, the piccolo and cimbalom float up from the void to bring the work to its haunting conclusion.

The complete work was first performed by The Fires of London in a live broadcast from the 1982 Lucerne International Festival. Its title, which refers to the whole work, and not to its three component movements, relates in part to the compositional process whereby a given contour (image) often appears simultaneously in inversion (reflection), while a composite of both contours (shadow) acts as a third layer. But the title also denotes the work’s poetic ‘programme’, and is taken from a poem by the runic scholar, Charles Senior:
Calmness enclosed the island.
Cliff and cloud-measured their mass
in the windless sea.
No movement
until the lone gull
broke the spell
and glided forwards
above the still shallows
of the bay
A clear reflection
of the white wings
sped along the surface
of the silent water.
And then, obliquely,
the dark shadow moved
along the green sea floor.
In that instant
on each plane
for each elemen
the bird performed.

Image: content in still air.
Reflection: true upon still water
Shadow: living on still weed and rock.

At this moment of the changing tide
mutations of life and movement
on plant, stone and bird initiate their
mysterious rhythms.

This is a copyright note, and may not be reprinted or reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.


First Performance

Municipal Theatre, Lucerne, Switzerland (at the Lucerne International Festival)

Sunday, 22 August 1982

Gregory Knowles  cimbalom