A Persistent Illusion
Julian Wagstaff


My brief in writing this piece was that it should celebrate the past, present and future of chemistry in this part of Scotland. The title refers to Einstein's observation that the distinction between the past, present and future is merely a "stubbornly persistent illusion".

The work is in three movements, none of which have titles. The first is an imagined three- way dialogue between Alexander Crum Brown (1838-1922), a professor of chemistry at Edinburgh University and a pioneer in the diagrammatic representation of compounds, the Russian composer/chemist Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) and the chemist Joseph Black (1728-1799), who discovered carbon dioxide a century before. The motif recalls the opening movement of the Borodin cello sonata. The second movement (of which the first section is essentially twelve-tone while the latter section essentially tonal) represents the process of chemical crystallisation, with the piano crystallising chords from the notes carried by the other two instruments. The third movement derives from my workshops with school pupils and teachers in Edinburgh schools. Participants were asked to produce note patterns on manuscript paper inspired by their knowledge of chemical structures and formulae, and everything in this movement is derived from these ideas (including the "twelve-bar blues" section at the end of the movement). I have tried to capture something of the exuberance and fun that I encountered in the classroom, as well as deeper considerations regarding the nature of our world.



Instrumentation Genre Ensemble (no conductor)
Tag trio
Duration 19 minutes
Instrumentation Clarinet [1 player]; Cello [1 player]; Piano [1 player]

Performances of this work

Date Venue Performer Link
12/12/2011 (*premiére) Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK Link to online catalogue

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