Those who have dipped into my blog now and again, will be surprised, perhaps, to find that I am still busy with the string quartet which I spoke about months ago………… It is one of those pieces that is DISCOVERED, rather than PLANNED……… Work on the music began by taking, if I remember correctly, a song of Francis Poulenc, as model. I have forgotten now how I started – I think maybe something happened before I got busy with the Poulenc…… Those early sketches are stuffed into a bookcase somewhere and I’ll have to sort them out in a few days. In any case, the amount of material doesn’t matter, only what I can create from it. I probably have too many ideas for one piece.
I am sure there are lots of sketches now, and there are also some complete sections. If all of this pencil work will find a place in the final score is uncertain and I like the unpredictability of that – there is no anxiety about it. Indeed, I seem to have come full circle (I do hope so) to a time long ago, when I wrote music because it interested me, not because I hoped it would interest others.
I didn’t yet speak in a positive way about my holiday in Italy. As I already said, it wasn’t a holiday – more of an experience – an adventure. A visit to my teacher is never a “holiday” actually. It is a quite confrontational time. He never says a great deal about the music that I show him (or play him, now that his sight is fading), but, nevertheless, a great deal “gets said”, somehow. Excuse me if this sounds a bit highfalutin: it’s just how it is.
I mentioned before, I hope, that the house where he spends the summer is on the edge of a forest. Without intending to, some of that forest has got into my quartet…………
I did what I always do there: explore. But that is not trekking. I’m absolutely not interested in going from A to Z. One day, for example, I spent a quarter of an hour just watching the breeze blowing through some cobwebs between felled trees. The mass of threads flapped at different rates. It was like a combination of tremolos and strummings, in a musical context. I wished I could have a film of it and make a careful study of the component rhythms. At the same time the zig-zagging movement of darting insects was attracting me – they were exploring the bark. And, high in the trees, the wind was making the branches sway back and forth at different rates, a giant version of what was happening to those cobwebs. I suppose it is very natural that in music we also arrange beats in cycles, so that throughout a piece you go back and forth, back and forth…….And on this visit, I realized, finally, that the wind blowing through trees is a sound that I love beyond description. It would be fatuous to call it beautiful. It’s more like the whole of your life is there. Your whole story.
The forest is not just sounds, and sights, it is everything else as well. So when I say that it got into my quartet I don’t mean anything simple by that. I couldn’t begin to describe the complexity of it. For that I must hand over to a novelist, a psychologist, or maybe a priest. It pains me to be so inadequate. But there is that limitation.
One evening we listened to the whole of the last act of Der Rosenkavalier. Some years previously we had listened to the second act – with all that “Mir ist die Ehre widerfahren” music lifting our spirits. It was the occasion for some hilarity, as the day before we had listened to a large dollop from one of the Glass operas [I have for some time now teased my teacher by giving him a new Philip Glass CD, once a year when I travel to see him, each time reminding him how much he adores this style of music]. As the Strauss finished he said, “so what do you think of the Philip Glass now?” We started to laugh. We laughed and laughed. It didn’t require any other exegesis.