Missy Mazzoli: Dark with Excessive Bright


Missy Mazolli composed Dark with Excessive Bright specifically for contrabass soloist, Maxime Bibeau and the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 2018. Part of Mazzoli’s programme note reads:


“I was inspired in no small part by Maxime’s double bass, a massive instrument built in 1580 that was stored in an Italian monastery for hundreds of years and even patched with pages from the Good Friday liturgy. I imagined this instrument as a historian, an object that collected the music of the passing centuries in the twists of its neck and the fibres of its wood, finally emerging into the light at age 400 and singing it all into the world. While loosely based in Baroque idioms, this piece slips between string techniques from several centuries, all while twisting a pattern of repeated chords beyond recognition.”

The Music

Performed as one continuous piece, Dark with Excessive Bright is a huge showcase for the contrabass – a not as commonly chosen solo instrument. The dark tones of the instrument add to the darkness and intensity of the piece, with the central cadenza showcasing the sheer virtuosity of both the player and instrument. Mazzoli describes how this choice ties in with the name of the piece:


“ “Dark with excessive bright,” a phrase from Milton’s Paradise Lost, is a surreal and evocative description of God, written by a blind man. I love the impossibility of this phrase, and felt it was a strangely accurate way to describe the dark but heartrending sound of the double bass itself.” 


Built with atmosphere and effects in mind, the fluctuating shifts between various techniques for both the ensemble and soloist is intriguing. From blending arco and pizzicato phrases, to the constant stream of harmonics played on the upper strings, the piece is all about effect. The contrabass is absolutely the star of this show, with its dark and woody tones striking through the waves of accompaniment from the orchestra. 

Mazzoli’s focus on the sound and depth of the tone is striking, with each theme becoming a product of orchestral depth and integrity. As the music grows into louder and more dramatic sounds, the sliding notes move from the ensemble to the soloist. This leads into a chain of different techniques, with the strings playing part col legno near the end. The final bars of the piece are intense and unrelenting. Once the pinch point has been reached, the music slowly fades back into darkness. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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