Kleine Wanderung – c.11 minutes
Another journey calls – c.12 minutes
Totentanz – c.10 minutes
Disparition – c.18 minutes
Duendecitos – c.13 minutes
I’ve borrowed the title for this quartet from a prose piece (‘a little ramble’) by the Swiss writer Robert Walser. ‘A Paul Klee in prose’, Susan Sontag called him, ‘ — as delicate, as sly, as haunted.’
The music came first, and the title is a response to it, rather than the other way round. I find it difficult to write about abstract music (particularly my own) but instead I can offer a couple of literary analogies. Both my piece and Robert Walser’s story are miniatures (the quartet is about ten minutes long), both are journeys and both episodic. Robert Walser’s narrator wanders through a landscape: he sees a river, a train rushes by, two young wanderers pass by with music… ‘I encountered a few carts, otherwise nothing…’
The views on my little ramble include several recurring features, particularly big unisons and a pizzicato refrain which changes as the perspective changes, like a mountain seen from different points of view along the way. I’m sympathetic to the way Robert Walser constructed his work:
’If I am well disposed’, he said, ‘that’s to say, feeling good, I tailor, cobble, weld, plane, knock, hammer, or nail together lines…. The novel I am constantly writing is always the same one, and it might be described as a variously sliced-up or torn-apart book of myself.’
My other literary analogy is with ‘Tristram Shandy’ (‘the greatest shaggy dog story in the language’):
‘Laurence Sterne's great invention was the novel that is completely comprised of digressions’ wrote Italo Calvino. ‘The digression is a strategy for putting off the ending, a multiplying of time within the work, a perpetual evasion in flight. But flight from what? From death, of course, says Carlo Levi, in an introduction he wrote to an Italian edition of Tristram Shandy’:
‘If a straight line is the shortest distance between two fated and inevitable points, digressions will lengthen it; and if these digressions become so complex, so tangled and tortuous, so rapid as to hide their own tracks, who knows -- perhaps death may not find us, perhaps time will lose its way, and perhaps we ourselves can remain concealed in our shifting hiding places.’
My quartet is a short shaggy dog story.
ANOTHER JOURNEY CALLS
In Another journey calls, we encounter several distinct settings through an episodic journey, much as in the Odyssey to which the title alludes. The piece begins in an intense landscape – a thick, matted, reverberating texture in the lowest instrumental registers. A voice from the first violin gradually emerges and ascends, leading to a second episode, where the cello, still deeptoned and energetic, is set against the rest of the ensemble. While the music’s appearance then shifts in totality through various new episodes – some with powerful melody in unison or near-unison, some that feel relatively distant, one that is suddenly filled with pizzicato – there is always continuity in the persistent melodic fragments and the held or quickly repeated groups of notes that echo between the players, as well as a reiterative sense of reaching or ascension. This leads us through a journey that does not necessarily feel linear; rather, some
settings appear to be reencountered along the way with a renewed perspective. Only in the final episode do we reach a calmer place where the texture frees up to allow a moment of reflection, before the final, highest ascension.
Totentanz is a complete world, absolutely in and of itself. It's an extra-terrestrial place. Songs and machinery are powered by a crystal clear logic. The laws of physics there might be alien to us, but the air is clean and the weather systems dance playful shapes across a multi-textured land.
Disparition (written in memory of Oliver Knussen) is an intensely focused single movement work of just over eighteen minutes. A striking unison monody in the opening, fragmented by moments of silence, sets the quartet off on a chain of short paragraphs made up of splintered melodic lines as the music drifts from swelling tutti chords to solo lines, most notably for cello followed by violin two thirds of the way through. Juxtaposition of dynamics, arco and pizzicato, the recurrence of fifths, fluttering textures, ascending lines rising up through the quartet, moments of ornamentation and Woolrich’s trademark ‘ticking’ figures are all here. The opening melody twists and turns it’s way through the piece stopping and starting as it constantly re-assesses itself. What’s most striking though is that the sense of loss in the music is conveyed by what isn’t said rather than what we hear.