Silent Aria: Suite for Oboe & Piano by Philip Herbert

Oboists might be familiar with the abridged version of Silent Aria which appears on the ABRSM oboe syllabus; here is some background to how the full suite came to be written.

The suite for oboe and piano was published  in November 2018, by Novello/Musicsales classical.  There are four movements to this piece:

  1. Silent Aria
  2. Spiritual
  3. Melisma
  4. Pulsation

The Suite is written by Leicestershire Composer Philip Herbert (pictured below). It was commissioned by Serendipity UK for the 2014 ‘Let’s Dance International Festival’, where there was an opportunity to collaborate with the acclaimed choreographer Henri Oguike, along with dancers.

The Suite Silent Aria carries this title, as the suite was inspired by the work of award-winning black choreographers who worked during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, but whose work more recently has been largely been forgotten. Each movement is imbued with an eclectic array of musical influences. In the first movement, there are some beautifully sustained melodic lines for the oboe, suspended over a syncopated three-note motif, which is coupled with arpeggio figures in the piano accompaniment. Sections of this movement also contain the lush chord progressions more readily associated with a soul ballad.

The second movement is based on a soulful theme and variations which carries the influence of a spiritual/blues and pentatonic tonalities, with the opportunity for the players to swing across the beat.

The third movement is ternary in form with a dark, haunting main theme in C# minor; the mood lightens in the middle section as the music moves into C major, before returning to the opening theme in C# minor.

The fourth movement touches on calypso and Latin dance rhythms. There is plenty of room in this movement to enjoy the joyous rhythmic exchange between the oboe and piano parts!

It could be programmed with works such as Alwyn’s Sonata for Oboe & Piano, or that of Poulenc, or even Edmund Rubbra’s Sonata in C for Oboe & Piano, along with Schumann’s Romantic Pieces, Bartók’s Romanian Dances, Ravel’s Habanera, or even pieces by Benjamin Britten.

You can hear an excerpt of the suite here  in its abridged version, as found on the ABRSM syllabus.

Khemi Shabazz (pictured) is a versatile oboist and a keen explorer of a range of musical styles from classical music and world music through to electronica.

Photo credits Below left © Leicester Mercury Mike Sewell and below right © Kandace Walker

Khemi Shabazz
Philip Herbert