Program notes

Night Flight for violin and piano, opus 41a (2003)

Night Flight is a danse macabre for the modern age. The idea for its frenetic energy came whilst taking off on-board a small airplane on a wild and stormy night. The work makes reference to the frantic and fantastic horse rides of Liszt’s The Dance in the Village Inn – Mephisto Waltz No 1 and Schubert’s song, Der Erlkönig.

Night Flight has a demonic and virtuosic part for the violin especially and captures the triplet rhythm of a cantering horse as a symbol of fear and imminent death as immortalised by Goethe in poetry and then in the nineteenth century concert repertoire by Schubert, Liszt and others. Horses canter in triplets with a right hind leg–diagonal pair–left front leg pattern and travel at speeds up to 30kmh. Goethe’s wild ride is surely about the fear of a parent fleeing for medical help as driven by the all-too-common terror of prevalent child mortality. In Vienna in 1800, 40% of children did not reach their fifth birthday so it’s hardly surprising that a child’s fragile life seemed always to be pursued by an evil spirit.

Who rides so late through the night and the wind?

It is the father with his child;

He folds the boy close in his arms,

He clasps him securely, he holds him warmly.

[Johann Goethe, Erlkönig, trans. Phillip Miller]

Night Flight was originally written as the fourth movement from a larger sextet, called “Mephisto”, in 1990. The Ukrainian virtuoso Dmitiri (Dima) Tkachenko, who had played the violin part in that work on several occasions, commissioned this transcription for violin and piano for concerts with Kristian Chong in London in November 2003. The work was premiered at Australia House in London on 11 November 2003 at a special Remembrance Day commemorative concert. Night Flight was subsequently recorded for Tall Poppies by Dima Tkachenko and Bernard Lanskey.

© Andrew Schultz, 2003/23.