A generating rhythm (two briefs – silence – one brief) punctuates The Old Masters of Speyside (2012) as a kind of leitmotif. On this rhythm, which is first uttered on the lower strings (violas, cellos and double basses), a very long, expressive, solemn, mysterious, bewitching melody unfolds, played by the second violins; the modal C minor (three flats on the key) adds to the dark and collected atmosphere.
This same melody is then taken up by the first violins a major third higher, but still in C minor. The second violins play the obstinate rhythm in canon with the low strings, bringing an additional harmonic dimension. The two melodies are then superimposed in parallel sixths on the first and second violins, increasing the intensity of this passage, while the rhythmic ostinato is again distributed between the lower strings, but in a different way, with the violas taking on, in addition to their own, the role of the second violins in the previous passage. The end of this section reaches an extremely tense climax and then a decrescendo brings us without transition to the second section. This section abruptly breaks with the solemn and mysterious character of the first, as it stylises lively, rhythmic and playful Celtic folk dances.
Two motifs, one of which is based on the generating rhythm of the beginning, intersect and overlap, passing through numerous changes of mode and creating a sonorous and colourful firework. Each tries to take precedence over the other, bringing a solo violin cadenza that is gently sustained – especially through the use of harmonic notes – by the rest of the orchestra. This brings the first section back to A minor, with the concertmaster playing in the high register while the orchestra punctuates the generating rhythm three times fortissimo. The concertmaster descends into the low register and the melody from the beginning reappears in parallel sixths, this time played by the violas and cellos, while the violins punctuate the generating rhythm, the double bass playing pizzicato. Towards the middle of this part, the violins split in two, some of them repeating the rhythmic ostinato in pizzicato, the others playing the melody in parallel sixths and in canon with the violas and cellos. We switch to F sharp minor (three sharps to the key), the intensity is then maximal, bringing the second climax of the work, which is also the luminous conclusion.
The world premiere took place in Brussels on 9 December 2012 by I Musici Brucellensis under the direction of Zofia Wislocka.
The Polish premiere took place in Gdansk on 20 December 2012, as part of a concert entirely devoted to the works of Michel Lysight, by the Chamber Orchestra of the Gdansk Academy of Music under the direction of Sylwia Janiak.