Argo CD 440 282-2
William Hunt: treble violin
Richard Campbell: treble violin
Julia Hodgson: tenor violin
Wendy Gillespie: bass violin
Richard Boothby: bass violin
Trio of London
Elisabeth Perry: violin
Melissa Phelps: cello
Julian Jacobson: piano
Mark Bennett: trumpet
Tony Cross: trumpet
Anne McAneney: trumpet, flugelhorn
Chris Pigram: trumpet, flugelhorn
Richard Bissill: horn
Lindsay Shilling: trombone
Richard Edwards: trombone
David Purser: trombone, euphonium
David Stewart: bass trombone
Oren Marshall: tuba
James Bowman: countertenor (on Self-laudatory hymn)
Virginia Black: harpsichord
‘Time will pronounce’ is made up of four chamber works written in the six months between 12 February 1992 -when I discovered the text of the Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence- and 12 August 1992 -when I completed For John Cage. It seemed logical to put these four pieces together on one album, partly beacuse of the concentrated period of time in which they were written (during which I also composed two new duets for my opera Letters, Riddles and Writs, a song Mozart on Mortality and The Upsode-Down Violin for the Michael Nyman Band and the Orquestra Andalusi de Tetouan), but also because these four commissions came from groups which were not associated with contemporary music in general or -apart from Elisabeth Perry- with my music in particular, and whose performing styles and sound worlds were admirably diverse and in no way connected with those of the Michael Nyman Band.
Occasionaly, and most pleasurably, a text discovered by chance -like that of the Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence- not only becomes the basis for a vocal work but also opens up an area of intellectual activity previously unknown to me. Thus a newspaper review of Olivier Sack’s The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat led first to an opera and than to an interest in neurology and related (popular) scientific fields, such as Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, starting point for my opera Vital Statistics. Similarly, a friend’s passing refernce to Paul Celan brought about my Six Celan Songs and a continuing, deepening study of his poetry.
The text of the Self-laudatiry hymn came to light while I was browsing among the bookshelves of an American acquaintance in Paris in February 1992. Opening, for no apparent reason, a fat anthology entitled Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, I found Samuel Noah Kramaer’s translation of this text. I was immediately taken with its tone of rare, unashamed self-congratulation (very suitable, I thought, for James Bowman’s voice) and its repetitive structure (very suitable for my music -though in the final section of my work, Inanna’s triuphant listing of the tempels under her control is expressed through cadential diversity rather than uniformity). A chance conversation with another friend showed me that Inanna was not an obscure goddess only known to me and a few experts on Sumerian civilisation but a central focus of that civilisation and (now) a figure highly esteemed by feminists. In Kramer’s words: ‘Female deities were worshipped and adored all through Sumerian history… but the goddess who outweighed, overshadowed, and outlasted them all was a deity known to the Sumerians by the name of Inann, “Queen of Heaven”, and to the Semites who lived in Sumer by the name of Ishtar. Inanna played a greater role in myth, epicn and hymn than any other deity, male or female.’ The Self-laudatory hymn was first performed on 11 June 1992 at Christ Church, Spitafields in London.
The title Time will Pronounce is taken from the last lines of Joseph Brodsky’s poem Bosnia Tune which deals with the horror of the unnecessary, unacceptable daily deaths in Bosnia during 1992 (and still in 1993): ‘Time, whose sharp blood-thirsty quill parts the killed from those who kill, will pronounce the latter tribe as your type.’ The violin and cello are (generally) treated as a unit independent of the piano. The form (generally) alternates slow and fast tempi, without motivation. The musical ideas are (generally) carried over from section to section. (Generally) the harmonic, melodic and textural material features thirds and semitones derived (generally) from the movement of the bass part in the opening bars. Time will pronounce was first performed on 14 July 1992 at the Pittville Pump Room, Celtenham.
The title The convertibility of lute strings refers to the late-sixteenth-century practice described by Christopher Nicholl in his book The Reckoning, on the death of Christopher Marlowe. Money lenders would offer a ‘commodity’ in lieu of cash -goods said to be worth the sum to be borrowed but that were found to be valued far lower when sold (often to the lender) for the hard cash required. Lute strings were, surprisingly, a very popular commodity. This fascinating piece of information is of no relevance to this composition: the harpsichord lute stop is never used and, unlike my String Quartet No. 1, which feeds off John Bull’s Walsingham Variations and La Travers?e de Paris, which recomposes some Couperin movements, The convertibility of lute strings makes no overt reference to the harpsichord literature.
However, at its still(-ish) (off-)centre there is a reference to the closing section of my ‘neurological opera’ The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: this is a homage to the generosity of the neurologist Dr. Anthony Roberts, who commissioned this work fro Virginia Black, a fellow student of mine at the Royal Academy of Music, where we both studied harpsichord under Geraint Jones, some thirty years ago. The convertibility of lute strings was first performed on 17 November 1992 at the Purcell Romm, London.
The first sketches for For John Cage (all subsequently rejected) were made in a hotel room in Nagoya on 29 September 1991. That sheet bears the ascription (gleaned from CNN) ‘Miles Davies died 8.30 am’. Another more recent sheet noted the death of the tango king Astor Piazzola.
The work was completed, without title, on 12 August 1992. The project title, Canons, chorales and waltzes, was rejected since there was only one canon (the opening passage for trumpets), a number of chorale-like sequences, but no true chorales and only one genuine waltz (the central group of flugelhorm sols -apart from a fake waltz over which the trumpet canon is superimosed towards the end of the piece). The following day I read in the newspaper the John Cage had died -on the day I finished composing. For this reason, but mainly because John Cage was the most revolutionary musical thinker of the twentieth century, this piece is dedicated to him. His influence on my music may be perceived under the very un-Cageian surface: though stylistically there may be little in For John Cage that may have been to his taste, I hope he would at least have appreciated its diversity and its non-simultaneous puliplicity. Texturally, the larger ten-instrument ensemble is broken down into constantly-changing smaller ensembles, while in performance an (almost) regular pulse of crotchet = 60 controls (or frees) material of diverse shapes, motion, dynamics and harmonic rhythm.
For John Cage was first performed on 16 November, 1992 at Noron Knatchbull Schoo, Ashford, Kent.