Hölderlin-Fragment

(streaming link below)

Summary:

This work is a setting of Da ich ein Knabe War (When I was a Youth) by Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), a poem which addresses the relationship of the individual to – and the tension between – the natural and human worlds. For Hölderlin the classical divinities, so well represented in the European poetry of his time and earlier, were manifestations of the world, crystallisations of its unknowability, and the source of all life. The poem is addressed to them as the representatives of the sublime: incomprehensible yet paradoxically more relatable than the world of men. In Hölderlin’s poem there is a sharp contrast between human and non-human. However, as the protagonist is unquestionably human, I feel the relationship is more complicated than it first appears. My own reading of the poem carries an undertone of alienation and isolation: the protagonist disavows the human world, but cannot truly escape it.

The musical identity of the work stems from the use of two opposed sources of material, corresponding to the polarised human and natural worlds of the poem. The ‘human’ material includes regular rhythms – for example canons and cadences – and nods to common practice harmony. The contrasting material representing the non-human world derives from continuous rather than quantised sound – for example glissandi – and the harmonic series. The relationship between these is explored in various ways throughout the work. In the final parts of the work they reach a sort of unity, a quasi-stable duality.

Performance History:

The Pale Flame Consort cond. Angelika Stangl - December 2016, York UK

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Dawn/Cascade

(streaming link below)

Summary:

This work was composed as a result of my being awarded the Jack Lyons Celebration Award, an annual commission for a postgraduate composer at the University of York. As well as a commission fee, the award included a three-week residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. This was a very special experience. The Banff centre is an amazing resource for artists of all disciplines, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a chance to attend.

The work is a setting of a La Cascade, a 1943 poem by Robert Desnos, for double choir and an ensemble of winds, percussion, harps and keyboards, twenty-three musicians in total. I first encountered Desnos about six years ago, reading his work in translation, and found myself very attracted to the images of the natural world he presents, or rather, of the intersection between the human and natural worlds.

La Cascade is dedicated to the French Resistance, and depicts a scene where resistance fighters, one wounded, camp or hide on a misty shore at dawn. The human drama however is eclipsed by the sensual beauty of the landscape and of the sky. The poem is a serenade to nature, and the specific natural landscape of France, and glorifies those who would seek to protect it from invasion, both materially and culturally.

This work is primarily a response to the images and metaphors of the poem, but it is impossible (and undesirable) to escape from the nationalistic context. The piece contains numerous allusions to the landscape of France (musical, this time) – Messiaen, Vivier, Grisey, and Debussy inflect the writing to varying degrees of recognisability. My only hope is that any reference is seen as an hommage, never a parody.

The music is divided into four parts with the four verses of the poem, though the last two overlap. The general progression is one of illumination. The star- or surf-flecked texture of the opening lines gradually brightens and thickens over the course of the work to a point of saturation at the moment of sunrise at the start of the fourth verse; after this the music slowly evaporates, like morning mist in the sun.

The work is dedicated to David Lyons, who funded the commission and whose father funded the building of the much loved Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall at the University of York.

Performance History:

Soloists of the University of York, cond. John Stringer - June 2014, University of York, UK

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Music for Miniature Landscapes

(Streaming link below.)

Summary:

Music for Miniature Landscapes, for guitar quartet, was written in 2014 for the highSCORE festival in Pavia, Italy. I was returning to highSCORE having been invited to attend after winning the 2013 festival's composition competition.

The piece uses statistically generated fields, superimposed onto simple algorithmic processes and the occasional 'compositional' intervention to create complex but intuitable textures and progressions - at least that is the intention!

The work is characterised by long parametric transformations that cause the music to move between states: dense texture to monody, obvious to incoherent and so on. However, these states differ only in terms of the magnitude of the variables used in their generation and do not exhibit any boundaries or transitions: any state changes, then, are phenomena which are imposed ‘from the outside’ by the listener, as are the details of exactly what they are and when they occur.

As a listener I find myself unable to avoid this projection of categories, not just in this work but in general: in this piece, the processes and transformations are slow and linear in an attempt to investigate this phenomenon, though it is by no means the only lens through which to listen.

As of Summer 2016 Music for Miniature Landscapes is one of most performed works, having been performed in Italy, England and the Czech Republic.

The work is dedicated to Quartetto Apeiron, who gave the premiere and have performed the work several times since.

Performance History:

Quartetto Apeiron - August 2014, highSCORE Festival, Pavia, Italy

The Chimera Ensemble - November 2014,  University of York, UK

Quartetto Apeiron - June 2016, Scuola di Musica, Codroipo, Italy

Quartetto Apeiron - June 2016, Forfest, Kroměříž, Czech Republic

Quartetto Apeiron - August 2016, Pula, Croatia

Quartetto Apeiron - October 2017, Nuovi Spazi Musicali, Ascoli Piceno, Italy

[The Ascoli Piceno performance was broadcast on Radio Belgrade 3, 07/12/2017, and again on Italian Rai Tre Radio on 21/01/2017.]

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