I had been studying some baroque arias this morning, in preparation for the movement for mezzo soprano that I shall include in my string quartet. It was the afternoon and I was troubled by something – a stylistic question. I was thinking about how to refer to baroque style, without simply imitating it and thereby writing pastiche. I began to get some ideas about how to do that when, suddenly, I felt tired and had to go and lie down. It had been snowing thick flakes of snow by the way – very pretty (I wish it would go on snowing, and on and on, becoming deeper and deeper).
I was wanting to continue thinking whilst taking a rest and I struggled to keep awake. But I fell asleep. The music I had in mind at that moment (a chromatically descending series of chords) transformed into an image; an image from Dutch life during WWII. A family is descending the staircase of a tenement house (like the one I live in, but grander) and exiting the front door. It is a Jewish family. The mother is the only one I can really see. She is a middle-aged woman, somewhat stout and with a forceful character. I sense behind her a father and some other family members. But my focus is on the woman. She is dressed in black, but prosperously so, and carries a handsome suitcase. The family is being expelled from the house and is sad, yet grave, rather than desperate. The mother actually looks more indignant than nervous. Yet there is no disguising the sense of doom. The family descends the staircase in perfect formation like the symmetrically spaced notes of the chords I had in my mind. The notes actually transformed into family members.
I sent a note to a Dutch colleague who might be able to locate a text describing such a scene. Probably it won’t be easy to find one, and I shall have to write something myself. People who wonder why I write my own texts nowadays should reflect that I am seldom able to find what I need. And if I do, and it needs some alteration, I’m not happy to make changes in the work of a writer who has passed on. If it is the work of living writer, then that can be just as daunting. They are maybe going to fight you over changing “but” to “yet”. And that is useless in a situation where the reality is that you go on altering “but” to “yet” and back again, even whilst making the final ink copy of the music……..
It is Easter and everywhere is quiet. Here also, even in this Muslim neighbourhood. Perhaps I should have gone to Mass, but I didn’t, and I never do. My father never took me, though he was brought up catholic (his mother was from an Irish family).