Caroline Shaw: Limestone & Felt


Premiered in the Netherlands in January 2012, Caroline Shaw’s Limestone & Felt is an exciting work for cello and viola. The composer describes the work on her website:


Limestone & Felt presents two kinds of surfaces – essentially hard and soft. These are materials that can suggest place (a cathedral apse, or the inside of a wool hat), stature, function, and – for me – sound (reverberant or muted). In limestone & felt, the hocketing pizzicato and pealing motivic canons are part of a whimsical, mystical, generous world of sounds echoing and colliding in the imagined eaves of a gothic chapel. 

These are contrasted with the delicate, meticulous, and almost reverent placing of chords that, to our ears today, sound ancient and precious, like an antique jewel box. Ultimately, felt and limestone may represent two opposing ways we experience history and design our own present.”


The Music

The hard surface is the first idea presented, with hard pizzicato lines and hits on the body of the cello ringing through. There is always a lot going on, which is a sensory delight as the music moves from jaunty pizzicato lines to echoing hits on the instruments. Shaw cleverly manipulates both instruments to keep a constant stream of sound coming with no awkward stopping or uneasy feelings. The flow, be it arco or pizzicato, is a central part of the fabric of this work.  As the composer suggests, the precious chords heard in the central section represent a very different character from the opening. 

Limestone & Felt is a refreshing work that is beautifully described by the pen of its composer. “We experience history and design our own present”.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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