fl(=picc+afl).cl(=bcl) - harp - 2 vln(I=tgl.II=small ratchet+tgl)).vla.vlc
'Towards Poetry' is a newly extended version of a piece I wrote for The Nash Ensemble in 1997 entitled 'Poetry Nearing Silence'. That work, in eight movements, was prompted by the art of Tom Phillips, specifically his wonderfully colourful and witty Heart of a Humument, a book of beautifully illustrated poetic fragments. The piece adds a further four movements, some of them quite extended, to the original work. It was commissioned by the Royal Ballet for their recent Dane Bites tour. Choreographer Mark Baldwin devised a new scenario which takes the work in a different direction, so the new sections are prompted by this scenario, rather than by Phillips’ art. Nevertheless, I remain extremely grateful to Tom Phillips for providing the original inspiration, as I am also to Mark Baldwin for helping me extend the work anew. The result is a sequence of twelve sections which run continuously together, lasting about twenty-six minutes.
The original idea - to create a sequence of musical episodes as contrasted from each other as possible, each with its own sound world and set of instrumental colours - remains equally true of this new version. Even more so, I should say, because the additions include more solos for each player in the seven piece ensemble, such as an interlude featuring the harp, and a variation with a virtuosic solo violin part.
A brief guide follows:
1. muse in rocks or pebbles or clouds or foliage.
The piece opens with four sounds evoking the four words. These sounds engage in a quick dialogue and melt into each other.
2. Know Vienna...A slow, lugubrious tune, somewhere between a disjointed waltz and a blues, with a heavy, bass-ridden accompaniment. This is followed by a newly composed interlude featuring a short solo for harp; it leads directly into:
3. my future as the star in a film of my room.
Two episodes linked by three refrains. The use of an aural backdrop (a ratchet played by the second violinist) against which almost the whole piece is heard – a sort of composed background noise.
This new movement is a mini violin concerto, featuring brilliant textures in the highest register of the ensemble. (The term ‘variation’ is used in the balletic sense of a solo dance.)
4. Poetry Nearing Silence. Trouble is a voice outside.
Fleeting melodic shapes and quietly ticking pulses onstage are challenged eight times by increasingly desperate fanfares offstage from the clarinet (the ‘voice outside’). The original painting is a portrait of Samuel Beckett.
A fight follows, splitting the ensemble into two competing ensembles with the harp caught in the crossfire between them.
5. lashing in Italy
String quartet. A canonic invention on a chromatic subject. The entries get closer together as the piece progresses.
6. in Bohemia, screwing (Hommage to L.J.)
Full ensemble. A folk-style monody for clarinet with increasingly aggressive accompanying figures, which eventually overwhelm the tune. An affectionate hommage to (not a parody of) my favourite composer.
7. in Carpathia, you cared for new things.
A release of musical tension. A hommage to the folk music of the Carpathian mountains, with its shepherds’ pipes, hews harps, alphorns, etc.
The most substantial new movement is a pas-de-deux which gave me a chance to compose sustained and lyrical music on a more extended scale than was possible in the original piece. The form is bi-partite, with a lyrical opening section followed by more assertive music featuring a clarinet solo; the whole concluded by a coda in which both wind instruments (flute and clarinet) sing a long and intense melody around which the strings weave a flowing accompaniment.
8. Coda: tall rain rattled over Paris. A moody, introspective conclusion. Against a backdrop of rattling and tapping, the clarinet has a melody in G minor, somewhat akin to that of movement two, but more fragmented. As night falls, a bell rings and the music drifts off into silence.
I am very grateful to Tom Phillips for kindly granting me permission to use his texts as titles for my music.