Each trip I make to see my teacher in the north of Italy is different. Perhaps because the house is so remote, one tends to meet oneself there, not a pleasant experience. For the first three nights there were bad nightmares.
But dreams never fail to surprise me. Last night, for example, I was inspecting my own grave with a friend, discussing how far my body had rotted away……………
Right before I left for Italy, I had to write very fast an eight minute movement for small orchestra, consisting of four chamber music groups brought together for the occasion. Altogether, the ensemble was 2 oboes, 5 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos and a bass. I added to that a percussionist, because the idea was to perform the piece without conductor. In the end however I had to conduct (the premiere was yesterday), as the musicians did not have sufficient time to rehearse.
I have a very bad characteristic – having finished a work, I am not really interested to hear it. I just want to move on to the next one. So, already in Italy I filled up loads of paper with ideas (I put it no higher than that). And I do like most of all composing at a desk with just paper and pen, but this time I did something that I perhaps never did before. I went to the kitchen to work whilst chatting with the cook – well tease him actually – and therefore only half concentrated on what I was doing. That produces very interesting results……Well you have to understand that I am very much of the Max Ernst school – down on my knees inspecting the floorboards, so to speak…………(*)
Lots of gossip where I was, but one has to be discreet………But I can say that at last I met someone who can help me with a text for the string quartet (the piece I have been mentioning ever since I began this blog). I think I have probably written already enough music for ten string quartets. However I have all along been after something very elusive. I’ve been like a hunter tracking down some shy animal.
A few walks in the forest near my teacher’s house. I visited my favourite tree, with some friends. One of them appalled me by picking off a large lump of bark, then throwing it on the ground. I picked it up and bought it back with me to Amsterdam. Another time, one in our little party actually climbed the tree. I tried to stop him, but he was showing off, so no use. Anyway, discussing the age of the old oak, the general consensus was that it could well be 600-700 years old. So with some quick reckoning we worked out that Guillaume de Machaut could have been alive in its early days. I pointed out that it will still be there when we are all gone. But that didn’t spoil the general good humour……… We moved on chattering away, only the tree and myself knowing that we had some secrets together, though I suppose also that those in the party may have noticed at some subliminal level something a little odd. If so, their dreams will report it to them. What are dreams for, if not to discuss all the things we noticed, without noticing them?
* “In art, frottage is an “automatic” method of creation developed by Max Ernst. The artist makes a “rubbing” of a textured surface a bit like a brass rubbing in a church. Frottage however is not concerned with conventional images but is instead aleatoric/improvisational/random in nature. The result can be left as it is, or used as the basis for further elaboration. The method was developed by Ernst in drawings made from 1925 onwards. Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the grain of the planks had been accentuated by many years of scrubbing. The patterns of the graining suggested images to him. He captured these by laying sheets of paper on the floor and then rubbing over them with a soft pencil“.