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17 minutes



Quanta was awarded first prize in the 2018 Toru Takemitsu Composition award.


The piece, which was one of four to be selected by Unsuk Chin for the final of the competition out of 143 entries from 40 countries, was first performed on 27 May 2018 in the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yoichi Sugiyama.​

Quanta is inspired by a number of different aspects of quantum mechanics but uses, for its harmonic and melodic basis, two simple sacred pieces: Tallis’s 'If ye love me' and Purcell’s 'Hear my prayer'. The Purcell is quoted in its entirety by a solo octet but due to the aleatoric nature of the parts, there is only a miniscule chance that the motet will be performed with all of the ‘correct’ notes. The first section of Quanta follows a single particle passing through a diffraction grating. At irregular intervals, percussion, harp and piano impose a striking open fifth on C and G (the grating), leading to complete diffraction of the fundamental pitch. We then observe the particles moving towards a black hole. After explosions of colour and light, the solo parts begin to take hold, leading to the first real moment of stillness in the piece; the particles are moving closer to the event horizon, and as they do so, they appear to slow and eventually come to a complete stop. They are, however, still in motion and begin to move towards the singularity. What results is a disjointed and energetic musical texture with the horns playing ecstatic ascending figures, leading us gradually back to the fundamental pitch of C which began the piece. This, again, begins to fragment, but in a way completely dissimilar to the previous fragmentations and the cascading lines, based on Tallis’s If ye love me, take over to the point of eruption – like the death of a star, glorious and final. 


Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yoichi Sugiyama, Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, 27 May 2018


"Barnaby Martin’s 'Quanta' was the longest and most dramatic of the four. With a work of multi-layered structures with quotations from Purcell and Tallis, Martin has a strong flair for bold orchestral colours and he succeeded in taking the audience on an exciting sonic journey." 

Nahoko Gotoh, Bachtrack

"What I was particularly impressed about is the composer's readiness to fearlessly and open-mindedly explore a cornucopia of different compositional approaches. At the same time, the composer is able to command and develop complex structures and to write music that evolves in an organic manner."

Unsuk Chin, composer


large orchestra

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