COMPOSER-IN-RESIDENCE TO THE OBSERVATORY [1b WINCHESTER SCIENCE CENTRE]

Residency 1: Winchester Science Centre 18th.-22nd. May 2015
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I started with the music. Somehow, I felt this the greatest challenge of the two – of painting and composition.

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My imagination was full of impressions and ideas following the residency and I had a large collection of photographs, sketches and videos to draw upon [see Composer-in-Residence to the Observatory 1a]. These were external things – props, if you like – physical outcomes of my research into the site. Alongside these items was a vast soup of internal impressions, noises and intentions – all swimming around in my imagination like a bag of frogs, wriggling and seething and very difficult to hold onto. Together they comprised the evidence that I had experienced the wonderful chalk landscapes around Winchester but the prospect of starting a string quartet from scratch based upon these impressions – breaking the silence of the page with my little marks, dots and lines was a daunting prospect. Bringing something out of nothing always is.

My approach is to break my way in – charge through the door with bluster and see what happens on the other side. It’s a way of breaking the ice – and the fear!
With painting I just throw stuff about with abandon and masses of kinetic energy in the hope that something will emerge. Invariably it does, as this almost violent act serves to break the virginity of the page and take away its power to immobilise; you can stare at the page or manuscript and feel intimidated by its whiteness or emptiness. It takes a mighty leap of faith to start.

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I take the same view to starting a piece of music, but it’s not so easy to just throw stuff around spontaneously when you’re dealing with notes. Some of my sketches from the residency were precursors to scores, undoubtedly, but they were not the final notation – they remained as frozen kinetics, sound suspended in line, and this sound needed to be reformatted into a more standardised notation to serve my purposes, a process that takes time and unfortunately, time is the enemy of spontaneity – deliberation kills it.

My paintings are all about spontaneity, their surfaces and mark-making reflect this and it is this roughness and speed of mark-making and design through assimilation that imbues them with whatever dynamic qualities they posses.

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I have two methods that I hope enable me to develop spontaneity in my compositions baring in mind the limitations around real-time kinetic and gestural capture [I can’t notate as fast as I think but I can draw and paint very fast as there is a direct relationship between my thoughts, translation into movement on paper and the end result of the painting. For music this may apply in forms of graphic notation, which are repurposed forms of drawing, but for more standard forms of notation there is a degree of meticulous scribing that destroys spontaneity of gesture].

I labour this point because my remedy has led me to approach composition in very particular ways.

There are two aspects [at the very least] to the character of a finished piece of music as well as the way it is perceived by performer and audience, again from different perspectives; one is the ‘look and feel’ of the notation itself – what’s on the page, how it was put together, the sounds the notation implies etc., and the manner in which the music is performed or delivered to the listener. It is the combination of these two factors that combine to create the nature of the finished piece. Concept, notation and delivery become the same thing in aural terms – it’s the stuff we listen to! There is of course a whole other layer on top of this around how the music is perceived by the listener, but such reactions are way beyond my control – they remain the responsibility of the listener, so I will leave that well alone.

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So, what are these two approaches I use to try and imbue spontaneity into my music?

The first involves me building any new pieces out of materials I already have – a found object is as good a term as any. This found object can be for any other instrument[s] and be a solo or ensemble piece. It is almost always a completed piece [as opposed to a sketch]. I choose the pre-existing piece I feel has some of the qualities I’m looking for in the new music I want to create. I then take that material and build onto it, destroy areas of it, distort it, lengthen, shorten, randomise pitches, cut up, amalgamate and mix up the original structures. I execute this process as quickly as I can. I don’t want to think or calculate outcomes at this stage – I’m trying to remove certain aspects of my decision making to allow chance and speed into the process [like the painting and drawing, I am hacking my way through material in a process of assimilation trusting that the rough edges I produce will bring a freshness, unpredictability and kinetic mobility to the notation].

Throwing around this found object material ensures that I very quickly get over the blank page syndrome as the page is immediately covered with notation. My processes of transformation move the material I am working away from the original although there is invariably a genetic ghost remaining of the former piece. I don’t mind this at all – it brings a consistency of voice to my compositions, as they are all linked in real terms no matter how destructive the transformative process is. In rather loose terms, this process is a form of transduction – the changing of material from one state to another. I rather like the idea of being a notational alchemist as the processes I use at this stage are intuitive, responsive and reactionary.

Once I have generated new material and in the case of a string quartet, I take individual lines of music and start to work on those.

This brings me onto the second method I use to engender spontaneity in my work that involves notation and notational process but is even more concerned with performance and delivery techniques – asynchronicity.

The first part of this process involves working up the material for all four instruments of the quartet in isolation and without reference to each other using the material as comes out of the first-stage process. I do this because I want each instrumental voice to feel like an independent entity with its own nature, dynamic, gestural and structural logic and strategic role to play. I don’t view these individual instruments as playing a supporting role in any harmonic sense to any other instrument – such supporting as arises is incidental and a perceived relationship by the listener rather than an intentioned one [in most instances, at least].

Each part has independent tempi, different bar structures and material occurring at different times. All of these ingredients will run similarly through all four parts but not necessarily simultaneously in real time when the parts are stacked vertically in performance.

This brings me onto an interesting outcome. As the four instrumental parts of the quartet are running at different speeds to each other [this is why the music is asynchronous] I cannot and do not produce scores, that is, I do not attempt to display the vertical alignment of materials in a printed, notational format as it would be a lie, it would attempt to fix something on the page that is not intended to be [so] fixed in real life and real time. A score, whilst being very pretty and very complicated to look at would give the wrong psychological message about what the music is and how it should be approached in performance and sound. A vertical score at some level implies fixed elements – totally fixed, even if the score attempts to mitigate against this using different devices and explanations – the reader will still approach it as a vertically aligned concept which they then have to break to get an impression of what’s really intended. For me this is a bit like putting a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t work and should be avoided. So, I avoid it. No score.

There is a consequence to this. As there is no score, no one knows what the piece is like. It cannot be presented in standard terms to be read. The music exists in parts only. These are fully notated, but an understanding of what the music is, as a total sound concept can only be realised in performance – that’s when it reveals itself to the listeners [and performers who up until that point of coming together only have the perspective of their own part without contextual reference to a ‘total’ score of the piece they are playing in].

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It’s easy to think that the asynchronous nature of this music could result in a total free-for-all, but it doesn’t as I use a cunning device to hold everything flexibly together, structurally, the way I want it to be. Time-code.

Time code is synchronised at the beginning of the piece by each player, all starting at 0.00” on their mobile phone stopwatch apps and runs through each part and acts as a net to prevent temporal drift throughout the piece.

What’s temporal drift? Temporal drift is a term I have developed to describe what occurs when performers imagine the various tempi markings of their music a little incorrectly – too fast or too slow – which, over the duration of the performance of the piece can cause the intended structures of the music to drift apart and change the musical outcomes dramatically due to the accumulation of slower or faster playing. The time code runs in seconds and is in every bar of music in each part. The time code acts as a check to the player’s position in the music at any given point and allows them to reference where they should be in accordance to the time code and adjust their tempi accordingly, speeding up or slowing down to be in approximately the right place at the right time along with everyone else. The time code is not a click track nor is it a straight jacket. First and foremost tempi are intended to be interpreted, to be felt, and the resultant human error is built in as an outcome to the asynchronous nature of the music; the time code just prevents the major temporal drift I referred to earlier.

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So why am I bothered about structure if it’s all asynchronous and the processes I have mentioned previously seem to work against fixed structures?

The final stage when I bring all the lines that have been created independently together, is to work with them through another process of assimilation and see what I find, what the connections and contradictions are [both potentially good], what I want to keep, what I want to modify, highlight, recess etc., and undergo the final stages of sculpting the notation [sound] to what I want. It is in this final stage that I work with all layers of the materials as a vertical concept for the first time. It’s like the big reveal!

The beauty of using the materials that have been created through these processes is that they maintain their found object status, they rub up against each other in ways I hadn’t predicted and present me with a rich array of options and choices with what to keep or throw out, with the spontaneity and unpredictability, kinetic freedom, gestural fluidity inherent in the material and the combinations of material largely intact – at least I hope so – and, add to this the flexibility in performance and the constant variables of ideas aligning in somewhat different ways with each iteration of the music and you can see that the idea of spontaneity pervades the methods of building the music and as well as its execution through performance.

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So now, full circle – back to the landscape. How have I managed to capture what I set out to in this music; the open landscapes, the sights and sounds, the structures, the very ambience of the places I visited? How is it site-specific?

The simple answer is I don’t know!

I have selected motivic shapes, gestures and kinetic qualities I observed and sketched and translated these into notation – I have been mindful of qualities of sound-environments’ I listened to when out on the chalk – I am aware of that intuitive reaction to place that we describe as ambience, but has all or any of this gone into the music?

There is no way to copy what we see with our eyes directly into music – to make a literal transformation that actually represents one to the other. And even if there were, there’s absolutely no guarantee that any two people would read the same messages from the music, such is the diversity of our perceptions and processing.

This music has no narrative – it tells no story – has no climax, no melody and harmony in the usual sense [neither does a landscape – any such qualities are things we impose upon the land; the land ‘just is!

And so it is with this string quartet, observation one [ovington down] – it is what it is.

For me as creator of the quartet I can hear, intuit and relive certain aspects of what I experienced on my residency – sort of – there’s also a whole lot more that I just can’t fix in words. Additionally, my perceptions of the piece are now formed around a degree of familiarity with it [as I wrote it] but that doesn’t mean to say the quartet will relate or convey a sense of the chalk landscape for anyone else, most certainly not if they know nothing of the work’s title or origin and it certainly doesn’t make reference to embedded and familiar types of landscape music cliches now culturally accepted by those familiar with the idiom. You may hear larks, bird song; sense the open plains, the tumult of clouds running around the escarpments, the luminescence of sky-blue pungently counterpointed by the white of the chalk – the vistas, perspectives – the movement of air. If you do, that’s great – you’ve brought your story and I have succeeded in facilitating that process.

As with all music, what you hear is up to you, the listener.

And to round off, a little about the paintings.

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All the paintings featured here are acrylic on paper, 59.4 x 42.0cm or 23.39 x 16.53 inches [unmounted] and were created in July 2015.

So much of what I have said above about the spontaneity of the process of assimilation, found objects, kinetic and gestural outbursts in composition applies to my approach to painting.

Of course, painting is a 2D process and is not temporal so is very different to composition – and, unlike my asynchronous music that is only revealed when it is performed, across time, the paintings are visible in their entirety and immediacy with all relationships ‘graspable’ from the very first brushstroke and initial mark-making to the last.

These paintings have no linear narrative, they contain many elements of experience all presented simultaneously to the viewer – they are a composite of all my sensual and emotional experiences offered at once, intuitively translated through gesture onto paper – a summation of many places, many times and many feelings presented superimposed, one onto the other in each painting.

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The paintings are a subjective reaction to the places I visited and simultaneously, a subjective reaction to the actual surfaces I have created whilst engaged in the act of painting – of making, so much so that the painting becomes the thing – the experience – as it moves further and further away from the actual physical location. My relationship with the painting deepens as I search for a resonance within it that echoes something of my experiences on the residency. The picture is finished [I stop the process of assimilation] when I detect an ambience within it that connects me to the original experience [a wholly intuitive process] and when the physical structure of the painting; colour, form, texture, dynamic etc., reach a point that feels suitably balanced [be it a balance of equality or a balance of inequality]. These judgements are once again instinctual but founded in years of experience that has contributed to, and is currently developing a particular aesthetic.

There is of course no literal relationship between any of this work and the locations I visited, nor should there be; a place is a place, a painting a painting – they are radically different things. As for the music, you will have to form your own opinions about it when it is performed and recorded and you have listened.

The paintings are here to see.

The rest is up to you!

MKY 23.07.2015

 

 

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Composer-in-residence to the observatory [1a Winchester Science Centre]

Residency 1: Winchester Science Centre 18th.-22nd. May 2015
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What an amazing five days I have had at the Observatory. Located within the grounds of Winchester Science Centre, facing south and overlooking the rolling landscape of the South Downs National Park, the Observatory buildings occupied a quiet oasis of calm away from the exuberant business and noise of the Science Centre, full of young, excited children [and adults] learning about the world around them on the centre’s displays and interactive installations and gadgets. The acoustics within the Science Centre were akin to that of a huge swimming pool filled with voices, laughter, shouts and hyperactivity; all this contained within the huge pyramidal building and separated from the Observatory by glass and aluminium doors. To the south of the Observatory were a number of very busy main roads. These roads ran below [though out of sight] and across the hills within line-of-sight, contributing a continuous traffic hum that varied in intensity according to the time of day. At times it was so loud you could not hear the sounds of birds twittering from the neighbouring trees.

The Observatory buildings themselves are quite beautiful – not large, by any means, but intimate and intricate. I had the pleasure of sharing the space [whilst I was in the structure] with the very lovely artist in residence, Isabella Martin who’s conversation enriched my experience a great deal as we shared ideas and experiences.

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One of the joys of this residency is its openness to allow the artist to develop work without a preconceived idea of particular outcomes. This lack of pressure to ‘deliver’ to a plan enables a genuine relationship with the environment to grow so that the artist, me in this case, can luxuriate in the opportunity to wander around, look and listen, explore and research all manner of things related to the experience and location. By implication, all sensate experiences and thought are game for inclusion in a finished piece of work. The challenge, among others, is to experience, distill and make choices about what to include and what to exclude from any finished work, a difficult process when there is just so much, so many perspectives to choose from – I knew I was going to write a string quartet [the first of four, one from each of the residencies] and a series of paintings, all site-specifically informed but the rest was a mystery.

Day 1

Day 1 saw me spending most of my time in the Observatory building, acclimating myself to the surroundings and going on a few very close by walks. The weather was not good – cold and showery and very windy. I spent some time talking to Isabella about her working process and planning where to walk on day 2. Isabella had commented on how dangerous it was to walk from the Science Centre onto the footpaths south into the countryside because of the very fast and noisy traffic and because the footpaths had no access without walking along and crossing these very busy roads. I decided to avoid this and drive a little way south, park the car and then walk, avoiding the trauma of the traffic and the noise and getting to experience what I wanted to see – the chalk plateau and download. I only had five days on location so my time was precious. I needed to focus on what was important for my research and go do it!

By the end of Day 1 had had made a few pencil sketches to capture thoughts, sights and sounds on paper as spontaneously as I could.

and a picture of some of Isabella’s work in the Observatory:

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And my drawings:

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I had managed to find cheap overnight accommodation at the ‘Days Inn’, a motel in the Winchester North Services area, southbound M3. It was clean, I had a family room to myself [3 beds; 1 double and 2 singles], my own bath and toilet, tea and coffee making facilities and a flat screen TV. One minute from the motel was the food mall. Mercifully there was an M&S on the premises so I could get decent fresh food to eat. This would become my ‘home’ for the next 5 days.

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Day 2

Walkies time. I drove to a carpark about 4 minutes south from the Science Centre to explore Fawley Down.

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The walk was magnificent. The panoramas wide. From here I could see southwest across to the Solent, the Isle of White and the New Forest. The weather was turbulent, heavy and frequent showers blown along by a keen, cool northwesterly gale.

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I was very lucky, the showers passed to the north and south of where I was walking. They passed in bands creating amazing, atmospheric and rapidly changing plays of light on the land.

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I eventually found a path that turned down into a small valley, away from the high plateau. There were trees and shelter. I could hear the birds; the sun was out and it felt warm and protected. This was a great spot to make my first iPhone video diary:

 
Upon my return to the Observatory I decided to make some more sketches to capture the day’s experiences as spontaneously as possible, almost without any thought at all. I knew these sketches would inform later work with painting and of course, composition:

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Day 3

More walking, this time a little further afield. I wanted to experience some of the more immediately dramatic chalk landscapes Hampshire had to offer, the wild chalk escarpments. After looking at the map and studying contours to find where the best confluence of escarpments could be found, I settled for the area around Old Winchester Hill, south east of the Science Centre. The weather was still showery but the wind had dropped somewhat. I walked around Old Winchester Hill National Nature Reserve and further south and east into the chalk valleys.

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After walking through an enchanting [and enchanted] woodland full of Cow Parsley magically illuminated by dappled sunlight, I moved from the higher plateau area to an escarpment edge that overlooked a magnificent vista with a view of the opposite escarpments stretching away towards Petersfield and as far as the eye could see into the high ground of Sussex. I sat and looked out from this majestic vantage point, had my lunch, smoked a rollie, gathered my thoughts and made my iPhone video diary for Day 3 , then completed some sketching.

It rained.

 

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I also visited the very characterful old village of East Meon and walked around some of the voluptuous hills there. The weather had improved and it became quite warm.

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Day 4

Day 4 saw yet more walking. I returned to an area closer to the Science Centre, Ovington Down and Gander down to the south east not far beyond day two’s walks but bearing south east as opposed to south west – a very different prospect for topography, light and vista. I also walked to the village of Cheriton, near the source of the luminous, trout-filled Itchen, then, following the Itchen way to Tichborne and back in a large circular route. I was back on the chalk’s open, rolling plateau and its gentle valleys and streams.

These days of walking were long but so enjoyable. The luxury of being able to explore with nothing but the land and one’s thoughts for company gave time to connect to the area, to absorb its ambience and structures, sights, smells and sounds. I haven’t before been on any kind of residency and certainly not one as a composer where I have the time to just be, to think without pressure. I found it most therapeutic, as if with each passing day the ‘compressions’ of daily life were slowly lifted and I could expand into the space around me. I write so much music from week to week – every day, and have frenetic spells of painting, too; I’m always doing and making, always thinking about the next project, the next piece of music, organising, planning and thinking ahead. I felt truly in the moment here, perhaps for the first time since I was last in Suffolk on holiday with my partner, staying with composer Gordon Crosse in August 2014. Only there, across a week of slow paced living have I felt that same sense of growth and freedom. I love it!

Having said that, I was aware that there was much effort and consolidation to follow with regard to creating new work and that my time here was spent like a sponge, absorbing everything, thinking about it but allowing myself not to draw any conclusion or more to the point, race to any conclusion. I could feel myself filling up with ideas, impressions and glimpses almost as if what I was aiming for; the paintings and the string quartet could be seen and heard from afar, like a shimira, almost within touching distance, but not quite. Tantalising!

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I summarise my feelings in the Day 4 iPhone video diary – rounding things up on my penultimate day. I ask myself some big questions to which, as yet, I have no answers.

After making the video diary I distilled my thoughts in the now familiar way; through sketches that were this time, unconsciously more heavily landscape influenced than before – perhaps. I allowed myself no more than 30 seconds for each scribble – I was after what was essential, what was immediate in the hope I would capture something more elusive:

 

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Day 5

Consolidation. I chatted to Isabella at the Observatory about my walks and recommended places for her to go. I thought. I thought a lot, with a few cups of coffee, about the past few days and just how full my head head was of stuff – emotional, observational, experiential stuff – and I was excited, too, thinking ahead to the time this experience would settle, consolidate and result in new work. And remarkably, I still didn’t feel pressured about coming up with anything. I knew I would – I always do, but just letting this gestate, ferment away quietly out of consciousness was a strangely enjoyable and confident experience.

I want the work I produce from this first residency to surprise me. I want to develop my practice, my expression in both art forms in some way. I feel that the residency has been deeply enriching.

It is now just a matter of time 🙂

MKY 28.05.2015

 

 

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composer-in-residence :: the observatory [1]

11088340_10152802919291190_6690883193647744883_nI am about to start my first residency period as composer-in-residence to the Observatory. The first residency, based at Winchester Science Park on the edge of the South Downs National Park will take place from the 18th – 22nd May. I will be using the Observatory buildings as my base and shall explore the surrounding locations and line-of-sight features to undertake my research and gather materials for the work that follows. As I am only on-site at each residency location for five days I shall take the opportunity to gather together all the content and observations I need to lay the foundations for the work that follows.

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SPUD say:
“Marc’s intention is to compose new, experimental, string quartets inspired by the various residency locations is an excellent fit with the ethos of the project and will enhance both its scope and impact as a result of his aim to focus on all four Observatory sites across the two-year period of the project, bringing a new perspective to the single site focus of the other appointed artists-in-residence. As an artist with an established track record in musical composition Marc is bringing a new element to the project in an artform that is not represented in the artists appointed to date. Year One of the project will engage with the residencies in the Observatory at Winchester Science Centre and Lymington/Keyhaven, Hampshire”.

Marc’s role as Composer-in-Residence is supported by Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts, SPUD and DIVAcontemporary.

As a composer and painter I have a deeply held interest in the psychological and perceptual / emotional / intuitive associations between these two media and how ideas can be transduced one to the other. I have written about my thoughts and resultant compositions exploring these concerns here: http://marc-yeats.co.uk/blog/category/the-shape-distance/

As well as creating four new contemporary classical string quartets I will also keep a video diary of the residency and creative experience, make sketches and paintings [on location] of the built and natural landscape features to explore transduction between the physical environment and sound construction transforming [intuitively] visual ideas into notation – landscape into sound.

This method of ‘drawing to scoring’ underpins many of the concept stages of my work. I have written about the process here: http://marc-yeats.co.uk/blog/notation-from-drawing-to-scoring/

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The opportunity to look in, look out, up, down and around; to explore the work of other artists in residence and use these observations, themes, sounds and discoveries to build my own string quartet compositions, paintings and sketches, site-specifically informed, is a fantastic new opportunity to build work in relation to the Observatory, the land and what it inspires. The four Observatory quartets will be freestanding, independent works forming a much larger-scale composition reflecting my experiences across all four residency locations.

This first residency is based in the heart of rolling chalk landscape and the very particular scenery, geology, archaeology, flora and fauna it supports. I already have a deep affinity and love for this ‘species’ of landscape but still have no idea how the processes of composition and its underpinning research, including paintings and sketching will develop and reflect these qualities. I have an open mind about what I will encounter and what will interest and stimulate my imagination to create new work. It is both exciting and a little scary. It’s certainly a big adventure.

 

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the magical control of rain: Morris Pert, Mark Spalding, Geert Callaert and Me.

the magical control of rain: 8 pieces for piano | duration circa 40 minutes | dedicated posthumously to Morris Pert

Premiere: Geert Callaert – Friday 1st. May 2015 at 6.30pm at the National Centre for Early Music, York UK. A full programme can be viewed here, just scroll down to ‘event 4.

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Weather control is the act of manipulating or altering certain aspects of the environment to produce desirable changes in weather. Weather control can have the goal of preventing damaging weather, such as hurricanes or tornados, from occurring; of causing beneficial weather, such as rainfall in an area experiencing drought; or of provoking damaging weather against an enemy or rival, as a tactic of military or economic warfare.

the magical control of rain is posthumously dedicated to the Scottish composer Morris Pert.

Shortly before Morris passed away in 2010 we had a number of very interesting phone calls. Morris also wrote to me and sent me some of his music; as ever, he was keen to share and have feedback. I attach a photo of the last letter he sent me. After having know about and admired each other’s music for many years and only recently, finally meeting via Facebook, our conversations and friendship were sadly cut short.
 
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Morris has a facebook page dedicated to his life and work here.

A few years ago I discovered that the pianist Mark Spalding was a great advocate of Morris Pert’s piano music and has become the prime exponent of this music in the UK. I suggested to Mark that it may be an attractive idea to ask other composers who admired Pert’s music to write some small piano pieces to be performed alongside this music in concerts.
 
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Mark asked me if I would like to write a piece for left hand only. Also, as a number of composers were involved in writing these pieces it was suggested that material from Pert’s Drosten theme (contained within another piano work) was incorporated in some way to bind the compositions together.

This I did. However, I created a piece that I was generally unhappy with and did not deliver it to Mark.

Subsequently, I took the material from the left-hand only piece and decided to experiment with it; transforming, expanding and restructuring the music for both hands. I instantly felt more satisfied with the results. It soon became clear to me that I was not building a small occasional piece composed around Pert’s theme but a substantial 40+ minute, eight-movement work that whilst no longer audibly themed around Pert’s notes, was, never-the-less, imbued with the ghost of these notes as well as the original left-hand music; It was as if the shapes, structures and harmonies of the left-hand piece were binding this new work together.

I finally plucked up courage to tell Mark that the shorter left-hand only piece had failed, but I had written a demanding and substantial work to pay tribute to the music of my friend, Morris Pert.

the magical control of rain is a through-composed complete work. However, each of the eight sections of this piece have been designed as free-standing shorter pieces in their own right, to be performed separately, in varied combinations or ideally as the one complete piano work.
 
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Mark Spalding went on to premiere parts 1 & 2 of the collection in Schotts music room, London in 2013. Unfortunately I was unable to attend.
 
rain
 
A little before this I met the pianist Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont, probably on Twitter although the exact circumstance of our meeting illude me just now.
Pierre Arnaud and I admired each other’s work enormously and quickly moved to a point of wanting to work with each other. Pierre-Arnaud asked me to send him a collection of recent piano works so he could see if anything took his fancy. One of the works I sent was the magical control of rain and it was this piece – the biggest collection of pieces I sent, that he was drawn to.

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After several different attempts to secure a performance and recording opportunity for the magical control of rain we received a great offer from the York Spring Festival of New Music. Unfortunately, although we got very close to premiering the work, unforeseen circumstances prevented this performance from coming to fruition.
 

Luckily, my very good friend and amazing pianist, Geert Callaert was able to save the day by stepping in to learn this huge piece of repertoire at the very last minute – in fact, with just 6 weeks till the premiere date!
 
Geert Callaert
 

Geert and I are very excited to present the premiere on Friday 1st. May 2015 at 6.30pm at the National Centre for Early Music, York, UK. A full programme can be viewed here, just scroll down to ‘event 4’.

Geert Callaert:
The virtuoso pianist Geert Callaert took piano classes with Jan Vermeulen at LUCA-Arts campus Lemmensinstituut in Leuven (Belgium), obtaining the highest degrees for piano, chamber music, piano accompaniment, advanced musical analysis, composition and conducting (the special prize Lemmens-Tinel). In 2002 he graduated at the Orpheus institute with a project on the piano music and chamber music with percussion of Stockhausen, Xenakis and Wuorinen. During his formative years he participated in many seminars, among them the Stockhausen courses and seminars at the IRCAM in Paris. He is much sought after as a soloist and chamber musician at home and abroad because of his large and virtuoso repertoire, ranging across the whole gamut from classical to new music.
Callaert is also a composer and a professor of piano music and chamber music for students who want to specialize in contemporary work, as well as a researcher in music, conductor and accompanist working at LUCA-Arts campus Lemmensinstituut (Leuven, Belgium) and the Koninklijk Conservatorium Antwerpen (“School of Arts van de AP Hogeschool”, Antwerpen, Belgium). His performances and music can be found on 15 CDs and 1 DVD. The DVD “Avant-garde” contains two film scores with his music (music for two surreal silent movies, Belgian art). In 2012 he has released with the Academy for New Music Lemmensinstituut LUCA-Arts as a conductor and pianist (Pavane Records) the worldwide sold cd “Mysterious Morning” containing contemporary and virtuoso music for saxophone by Tanada, Wuorinen, De Clercq, Neyrinck and Hurel. Different composers worldwide such as Marc Yeats (UK), Robert Groslot (Belgium), Idin Samimi Mofakham (Iran) and Kee Yong Chong (Singapore) have recently written their most beautiful piano music for him. Geert Callaert is a member of the artistic board and a co-founder of the HERMESensemble and one of the core performers in the ensemble (www.hermesensemble.be).

Gordon Crosse in conversation :: [4]

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [4]

Recorded August 2014 with Mark Hewitt and Marc Yeats

11

 
For a full introduction to the interviews please see Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

All the interviews can be found here

At well over an hour, this is the longest interview in the series.

On our last trip to Gordon’s it occurred to Mark that we should capture some of the conversations Gordon, Mark and I had about music and life, to share with others, not least because there is a lot of interest in Gordon’s music and life as a composer and very little information about him in recent years. Mark and I talked about this with Gordon and all were in agreement it would be a good idea to proceed.

32
 
140
 
There is nothing academic or staged about these interviews. To avoid any formality we decided to adopt a conversational format, over several glasses of wine with an iPhone voice recorder left on the table – to record. The series of four conversations that followed are unedited; clanks, bangs, rattles, pops, jokes, conversation, laughter and all. They are rough and ready but to their advantage, natural, unselfconscious outpourings of life, music and more.

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As well as recording these ‘in conversations’, I decided to take photos around Gordon’s house by investigating its corners, shadows and rooms to reveal something of the history and stories it tells.
 
23
 

We hope you enjoy them.

Gordon Crosse in Conversation :: [3]

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [3]

Recorded August 2014 with Mark Hewitt and Marc Yeats

13

 
For a full introduction to the interviews please see Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

All the interviews can be found here

On our last trip to Gordon’s it occurred to Mark that we should capture some of the conversations Gordon, Mark and I had about music and life, to share with others, not least because there is a lot of interest in Gordon’s music and life as a composer and very little information about him in recent years. Mark and I talked about this with Gordon and all were in agreement it would be a good idea to proceed.

IMG_4687

 
57
 
There is nothing academic or staged about these interviews. To avoid any formality we decided to adopt a conversational format, over several glasses of wine with an iPhone voice recorder left on the table – to record. The series of four conversations that followed are unedited; clanks, bangs, rattles, pops, jokes, conversation, laughter and all. They are rough and ready but to their advantage, natural, unselfconscious outpourings of life, music and more.

37
 
As well as recording these ‘in conversations’, I decided to take photos around Gordon’s house by investigating its corners, shadows and rooms to reveal something of the history and stories it tells.
 
43
 

We hope you enjoy them.

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [2]

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [2]

Recorded August 2014 with Mark Hewitt and Marc Yeats

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Gordon’s cottage in the seclusion of East Suffolk

 
For a full introduction to the interviews please see Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

On our last trip to Gordon’s it occurred to Mark that we should capture some of the conversations Gordon, Mark and I had about music and life, to share with others, not least because there is a lot of interest in Gordon’s music and life as a composer and very little information about him in recent years. Mark and I talked about this with Gordon and all were in agreement it would be a good idea to proceed.

 
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76-1

 
There is nothing academic or staged about these interviews. To avoid any formality we decided to adopt a conversational format, over several glasses of wine with an iPhone voice recorder left on the table – to record. The series of four conversations that followed are unedited; clanks, bangs, rattles, pops, jokes, conversation, laughter and all. They are rough and ready but to their advantage, natural, unselfconscious outpourings of life, music and more. This episode features Mark eating a packet of crisps very noisily throughout the first 10 minutes of our conversation – please bear with it!

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Gordon preparing a late evening snack after our conversation.

 
As well as recording these ‘in conversations’, I decided to take photos around Gordon’s house by investigating its corners, shadows and rooms to reveal something of the history and stories it tells.

 

We hope you enjoy them.

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

Gordon Crosse :: in conversation [1]

In August 2014, my partner Mark Hewitt and I took what has now become something of an annual pilgrimage to Suffolk to visit our very dear friend and composer, Gordon Crosse.

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Gordon Crosse with Mark Hewitt

 

These visits have proven to be an oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic life. Suffolk is a strange land – somehow very cut off from elsewhere, isolated, almost in a different time-zone all its own.

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Gordon Crosse with Marc Yeats

 

The landscape has always been a favourite; gently rolling agricultural land – lots of arable farming, beautiful villages, amazingly historic, well preserved churches, byways and forgotten villages and a desolate, quietly vast coastline of soft crumbling cliffs, expansive reed-beds or long shingle beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. It is a land of horizons and sky – light and shadows. There’s fragility here, too. The land is constantly under threat from the sea – any trip to the sea makes it clear how low-lying much of the coastal fringe is, and where there are cliffs, they crumble with each gentle caress of the waves for they are made of sand, the legacy of vast, ancient ‘petrified’ estuarine deposits easily eroded by wind, rain and of course, the sea. Here you will find lost villages that have been claimed by the sea and the haunted remnants of houses condemned to destruction as they perch and eventually tumble from their foundations above the cliffs to the beach below. There is great beauty and peace here – great quiet, too; one can walk for days.

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Gordon lives in a secluded cottage near an area of rare, protected heathland, cocooned in a small indentation in the land. There’s no standing on ceremony here; Gordon is very relaxed as are his surroundings, reflecting much of his life, past and present. The house is fascinating in as much as it tells you a great deal about its owner, his life and priorities. You’ll find no fitted carpets, fitted kitchens or matching three-piece suites here – no colour-coded bathroom furniture; the house is like a snowball that has collected its content as it rolled through life.

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Gordon is a wonderful host, too, and we always have so much to talk about; music especially. With three composers in the room, all with different musical aesthetics and many shared passions, conversation flows. On our last trip to Gordon’s it occurred to Mark that we should capture some of this conversation to share with others, not least because there is a lot of interest in Gordon’s music and life as a composer and very little information about him in recent years. Mark and I talked about this with Gordon and all were in agreement it would be a good idea to proceed.

There would be nothing academic or staged about these interviews. To avoid any formality we decided to adopt a conversational format, over several glasses of wine with an iPhone voice recorder left on the table – to record. The series of four conversations that followed are unedited; clanks, bangs, rattles, pops, jokes, conversation, laughter and all. They are rough and ready but to their advantage, natural, unselfconscious outpourings of life, music and more.

1

As well as recording these ‘in conversations’, I decided to take photos around Gordon’s house by investigating its corners, shadows and rooms to reveal something of the history and stories it tells.

 

We hope you enjoy them.

Music landscape and me [5]

14, February 2015

music, landscape and me [5]

meltdown

I’m stepping back in time a few years from music, landscape and me [4] and returning to 1985 when I moved from Teignmouth to Southampton with Jane before moving from there to Skye in 1987. I was 22.

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Totton Powerstation [oil on canvas 30 x 20 inches] as seen from over the water in Southampton, an apocolyptic vision painted in the early 1990s

1985-1987
I hated it – what a depressing place to live. We bought a nice little house but I didn’t enjoy the built-up, rundown, crowded city environment. At the end of our road was a ship-builders and a large, smelly sewage works!

I remember saying to Jane when we arrived on a bleak, damp, dark and foggy night – “I’ll give it two years!”

We were in Southampton because Jane was taking a degree course in medical sciences at Southampton University. Initially we lived in married quarters at the university [very cramped but not unpleasant]. Within a number of months we had bought a house in Swift Road and soon settled into that. After qualifying in Devon as a nurse for people with learning disabilities [1985] I managed to get a very good job working for Mencap as a residential care-worker not far from where I lived. I really enjoyed this work and continued to paint for 30 hours a week as well. But things were far from settled.

During the two years living in Southampton I underwent catastrophic change.

I was still painting landscapes – still the same sort of thing. I had a few exhibitions organised but was badly let down – betrayed even, by several galleries in the south and west and was still messing about trying to break out of the ‘trap’ of representational painting, often with little success, leaving only a legacy of frustration.

My thoughts were turning to composition with increasing frequency, too, but I found nothing but frustration there, as well. I tinkered, wrote a few bits of pieces but was instantly unhappy with the results. I completed little, eager to move on and learn the next lesson. I knew where I wanted to be, or at least the direction I wanted to head in but really had no means of getting there. The disconnect between my inner musical world and my ability to communicate it to anyone else, especially through notation, became desperate.

To add to this, my mind was disintegrating.

It began quietly; fears and anxieties that unsettled me, haunting and taunting from the dark recesses of my subconscious.  This disquieting grew over months until it manifest as relentless waking dreams and visions of such terrible intensity I began to live in constant fear of these scenarios acting out and becoming reality. For some reason I had become obsessed with everything I knew and held dear being utterly destroyed by war; especially nuclear war. The anxiety was continual; I could think of nothing else but civilisation and the world coming to an appalling end. I would see these scenarios when I slept, but also when I was awake – towns and cities flattened, burning, the sky horrific colours after the destruction – death everywhere – it was utter hell. And I was living this every day.

My mind became mangled; it began to affect my daily behaviour. I became physically ill, demoralised, depressed and reclusive. I could see no hope, no reason to continue. The visions and dreams intensified and grew in graphic detail to such a point it became difficult to draw the line between external reality and the reality in my mind. This sounds psychotic, but I was always aware that these things were happening and I was torn between two worlds. I knew something was badly wrong – psychosis, however, is generally a condition the sufferer is unaware of where they think their mental state is normal and everything else around them is wrong. Neurotic, perhaps, but psychotic, no. What was certain was that I was having some kind of mental breakdown.

I remained sane at the same time as being totally terrified. My belief in these visions [I call them that for want of something better – no ‘spiritual’ implications intended] was fuelled by a number of premonitions that preceded and were frighteningly accurate in their specifics and detail. I shared these premonitions, often of significant world events with others before they happened so they who could verify their accuracy and I could rest assured I wasn’t imagining these things or falsifying their potency. I found these premonitions very unsettling and their accuracy only served to make me take seriously the visions I was having in Southampton some months later. I had no idea what was happening, just that I wanted it to stop!

I went to the Doctor – he said stress and prescribed beta-blockers. I didn’t take them. I didn’t know whether I needed a psychiatrist or an exorcist!

Jane supported me through all this. It must have been a terrible strain on her. She used to walk me around the streets of Southampton at night and talk to me – I was so afraid of falling asleep and having the same terrifying dreams.

It was on one of those midnight walks that Jane said something about my [tragically dysfunctional] relationship with my father. I can’t remember the very words just now, but I do remember that what she said made me cry. I am not someone who cries easily – even when I want to, but as I cried I sensed a release – small at first but deeply felt. It was like the first crack developing in a vast sheet of ice.

From that point on, slowly but surely, the balance in my mind between the world outside and the world inside began to stabilise. This was not a fast process; it took 6-8 months with many setbacks along the way, but the general momentum was toward normalisation.

What became apparent, for whatever reasons, was that the very damaging relationship I had had with my father and the psychological and emotional brutality I lived with had scarred me in ways I hadn’t realised. I always thought I got through the bullying, fear and insecurity unscathed. People who knew my background would remark how ‘well adjusted’ I was considering the circumstances of my childhood. It seemed that somehow, a great deal of this damage had associated itself with my fear of everything I had subsequently built [secure relationships, love of music, painting, the landscape] being destroyed – taken away from me. The legacy of insecurity my father had left me had manifest into the horrors of nuclear war . . . . perhaps, and Jane’s comment about my relationship with my father had triggered a release or realisation?

You may wonder why my mother is not mentioned here. She was wonderful but unfortunately died of cancer when she was 44 and I was 15. She could not act as a buffer between my father and me any more. My father made her life a misery for long enough, too.

It also became clear that I had to get out of Southampton to begin a new life elsewhere. I wasn’t out of the woods yet but I knew the right direction of travel in and it was a long way from Southampton!

Around this time and just before leaving Devon I was an avid Radio 3 listener [in the days when they played contemporary music regularly and you didn’t feel the need to submerge yourself in a ‘relaxing’ bath to enjoy it]. What a great resource this was. Armed with my trusty tape recorder and a copy of the Radio Times I would hunt for anything that I thought sounded interesting. I was hugely ignorant of contemporary classical music and those who were working around me; Radio 3 was my contact with the rest of the musical world.

It was through Radio 3 listening that I first discovered the music of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies [and Mahler at the same time] and not the tuneful Max – I first heard Black Pentecost and though it dark and shockingly marvellous and extreme. Not so long after that I heard his 3rd. Symphony of 1984. It still remains my favorite piece of Max’s – its amazingly taunt structure, intense soundworld and desolate, uncompromising beauty haunts me to this day.

This was the first contemporary music I had really heard and it spoke to me. And what a contrast from the English pastoralism I had surrounded myself with before. Here [certainly in the symphonies] was a new language that to my ear at least, still concerned itself with landscape, but this time, through a continually evolving, Sibelian like transformative process, on the surface of its sound, at least. I was so interested to know how it was made, how it was written down. Shortly after this I also encountered Harrison Birtwistle’s music and was equally enamoured and struck by his obsessions with landscape and ritual using an entirely new language that owed more to Starinsky than Sibelius but nevertheless held a monolithic, timeless beauty.

This music somehow resonated with my bleak state of mind at the time and I loved it.

I wasn’t interested in pretty tunes and neat harmonies written by living composers – that had already been done and oh so well by the many ‘dead composers’ who have left the legacy I love. This newfound relationship with Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle helped to move me further towards my goal of being a composer – it inspired me to try and find out how to write down the sounds l heard. I truly had no idea; I also had no access to scores or other musicians to help. 

What I didn’t know I simply made up. This approach has stood me in good stead ever since!

 

New doors – new locations – new techniques for painting and composing were about to open. The catastrophic experience of Southampton was to unleash an enormous change in my painting and open the compositional floodgates!

 

 

Notation: from drawing to scoring

SEPTEMBER 25, 2012 [updated 14.02.2015]
Notation: from drawing to scoring

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from manuscripts of moving song – score sketch
 


World premiere performance by Zero Theorem: Aisha Orazbayeva [violin], Minsi Yang [violin], Stephen Upshaw [viola], And Patrick Tapio Johnson [cello] as part of DIVAcontemporary’s Sonic Coast [5] at Beaminster School on the 17th January 2015
 
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Structure: When in doubt, draw it!

Finally, after months of thought and deliberation I have arrived at a structural solution for notating the score of my string quartet, now titled ‘from moving manuscripts of song’ (see previous notation related posts).

This title appeals to me especially because of the use of the word ‘manuscripts’ but more especially because of the verb ‘moving’ and noun ‘song’.

The use of ‘moving’ implies a fluidity of execution in live performance that my compositional and notational method aims to capture in the ‘static’ structural representation of the score. ‘Song’ is similarly ideal as each of the quartet voices are indeed ‘singing’ as a choir, independently with their own music, granted, but voices brought together; meshed in, by performing their material ‘framed’ in the same space at the same time as a quartet. The expectation is for an intimate musical relationship between the four players. The nature of this music does not preclude such intimacy but does re-draw the player’s lines of communication and integration, responding to each other spontaneously as the work unfolds and utilising all aspects of their musicality. This relationship is further reinforced by the thematic connectivity within the musical material itself. The fact that the voices are playing independently will be far less apparent when just listening to the music; the outcome will be one of a fusion of interconnected sounds; there will be nothing ‘disconnected’ about it!

As I write in the performance notes on the score:

This music is divided into five sections some of which have sub-sections. The piece should be performed as a continual whole with pauses marking the boundaries of each section.

The instrumentalists play independently of each other. Music is cued to begin only, with no ‘fixed’ synchronisation between the parts other than that which arises spontaneously through performance. Whilst the relationship of each instrument is flexibly placed against its neighbour, care has been taken to calculate potential outcomes of coincidence and to this end it is vital that metronome markings are adhered to as accurately as possible.

Bergersen-Quartet-3_00061from manuscripts of moving song – 3 – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above

 
There are a number of sections that operate in very close (almost imitative) canon. Again, no exact synchronisation is intended but players should ‘follow’ each other as closely as possible to approximately maintain the displacement of the instruments consequent of their starting order. If metronome markings in these sections are too fast they should be moderated through agreement with each player so that all can perform at roughly the same tempi.

Compositional material is derived from a series of variations that unify all sections with thematic landmarks. Thematic material is audible throughout the piece, bringing cohesion and structure to the work. This material is at its most radically diverse in the opening section and at its least differentiated in sections 3 and 5, both of which employ the aforementioned close canons. The piece as a whole could be considered as journeying from flux to greater focus although this statement oversimplifies the actual processes involved.

Bergersen-Quartet-1c_00032from manuscripts of moving song – 1c – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above
 

I have produced a score for the quartet which is a compromise between displaying all the musical material for each section or sub-section on the same page whilst avoiding the innumerable complexities of trying to notate each part in vertical alignment as represented in real time. The approach I have taken feels further justified as attempting to accurately pin-down the vertical alignment of the parts would go against the ethos of flexibility I have so carefully calculated in the music.

Bergersen-Quartet-4_00071from manuscripts of moving song – 4 – as ‘transcribed’ from the drawn sketch above
 

As a consequence, the score cannot be read in the conventional manner (seeing all instruments sounding simultaneously in vertical alignment) although the progress of individual instrumental parts can be followed in the score. The performance parts for the quartet are notated as normal.

Programme note from the score:

The information below should not imply any programmatic, emotional or imagery treatment within this piece of entirely abstract music. Both title line and later, entire poem were discovered after the music was conceived. Information is given purely to place the title in its proper context.

‘Let Me Enjoy’ is the first of ‘A Set of Country Songs’, the 18 poems which make up the third section of Time’s Laughingstocks, and themselves begin with the seven poems grouped under the heading ‘At Casterbridge Fair’. It is also the first poem in Gerald Finzi’s Opus 19 set of songs, Till Earth Outwears, and Hardy later included it in his Selected Poems, together with a note suggesting that the subtitle ‘(Minor Key’) might not be needed when the poem appeared separately from the rest of the ‘Country Songs’. It was one of the nine poems Hardy chose for the Library of the Royal Dolls’ House at Windsor.

Hardy revised several lines at different times. In the Cornhill, where the poem first appeared in 1909, line 7 read ‘I will find charm in her loth air’; in the first volume publication, this was amended to ‘I will find charm in her uncare’ (a fascinating example of Hardy’s interest in words beginning with the prefix ‘un–‘, of which there are more than 350 different examples in the poems alone: to ‘uncare’ is surely not the same as merely to ‘not care’), before Hardy settled on the final version. In the third verse, ‘moving song’ was ‘rapturous strain’ in the manuscript, and ‘tender song’ in the Cornhill; perhaps more strikingly, ‘dreams’ in line 10 was ‘souls’ in the manuscript and remained so until Collected Poems in 1928. ‘And some day hence’, in the final verse, was ‘Perhaps some day’ in the manuscript and the first volume publication.

Let Me Enjoy
(Minor Key)

I) Let me enjoy the earth no less
Because the all-enacting Might
That fashioned forth its loveliness
Had other aims than my delight.

II) About my path there flits a Fair,
Who throws me not a word or sign;
I’ll charm me with her ignoring air,
And laud the lips not meant for mine.

III) From manuscripts of moving song
Inspired by scenes and dreams unknown
I’ll pour out raptures that belong
To others, as they were my own.

IV) And some day hence, towards Paradise
And all its blest – if such should be –
I will lift glad, afar-off eyes
Though it contain no place for me.

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