The Anglican Communion 2

After my voice broke and I stopped singing in chapel services at Addington Palace (the then headquarters of the Royal School of Church Music), I let go of my interest in Anglican church music. Neither organ playing nor singing were studies I wished to take up. But I retained, “locked in a cupboard” somewhere in my mind, a memory of that whole repertoire. And sometimes it is reflected in my music. The culture of the chapel was largely a safe, ordered and disciplined world. And one shouldn’t forget that the Anglican Church is one of the few areas of our musical life where there is a genuine interest in new music. (I remember the excitement when Derek Holman wrote a piece for us).

Over the years since, I have probably failed to point out how much I owe to the chapel training (which included piano and composition lessons). And it was all given gratis – no small thing, as my family could not have afforded any of it.

It is decades since I listened to this music. Here are some of the composers I loved as a child:-

Thomas Attwood, Edward Bairstow, Benjamin Britten, William Byrd, William Croft, Harold Darke, George Dyson, Orlando Gibbons, John Goss, Maurice Greene, George Frideric Handel, William H. Harris, Pelham Humfrey, E. J. Moeran, Thomas Morley, Frederick Ouseley, Henry Purcell, Charles Villiers Stanford, Herbert Sumsion, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, Christopher Tye, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Thomas Attwood Walmisley, William Walton, Thomas Weelkes, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Charles Wood.

John Marbeck I didn’t like. And psalm singing was always a bore – I doubt they have abandoned that ugly tradition. The Roman Catholic method of psalm singing however was PERFECT, and that HAS been abandoned (after Vatican II). Such are the ironies of…….

Incidentally, my first (failed) attempt at composition was of a psalm chant – I threw it away.

….where three roads meet……

diceIn De Clercqstraat, today, I had a musical idea which I began to sing quietly to myself as I waited for tram 14. Well, I was already singing it before I even noticed it was there. It was easy to memorize, and I noted it down as soon as I got to the house.

I had been on tram 3 on my way home from Wibautstraat. (I go there every Tuesday and Thursday to attend a Dutch class). I would have to change from a 3 to a 12 or a 14 in order to complete my journey. But as I got off at the crossroads where the tram routes intersect, I didn’t notice that a 12 was already waiting there. So it pulled away without me. That meant walking round the corner to wait for a 14.

That’s how I came to be standing in De Clercqstraat singing that bit of music. If I had noticed the 12, I would have caught it, and not conceived the musical idea. So this idea would not now exist and the string quartet would be a different piece as a consequence (I decided to include it in the new work).

I get irritated with all these musical ideas that appear. Yes, they are attractive, but at the same time they are like little birds in a nest with mouths wide open – the ideas have to be “fed”. I sometimes just push them away, through laziness. The same applies if I am in bed and cannot be bothered to get up to write music down.

But I should count all this a blessing really, because, years ago, when things reached rock bottom as far as my creativity was concerned, I would negate any spontaneous idea I had.

Today, the one that arrived, was vintage Geoffrey King – the sort of idea that my friend and colleague Peter Nelson teases me about (because of its Celtic derivation). When I later came to consider the fragment seriously, I decided immediately to use it…….as I said. And it will be easy to develop. What I have written in recent days will readily combine with it.

Ideas develop on their own, or through applying various modalities. They can also develop through interaction with other ideas. One can speak of an attraction between ideas. And because they don’t have our shame, they can openly say, “oh come here, I want to fuck with you right away”, and before the thought is even over, the dirty deed is done…………..heh-heh.

Ooooooohhhhhhhhhh, HOW could I make THAT comparison? Oooh, the shame of it!

But, returning to the subject……early in 1999 during dinner at a friend’s house, I was talking about my interest in chance and said “if, later, I take a certain route home, I may encounter a person in the street who will become immensely important to me, whereas, if I take another route, I shall never even meet him”. I cycled off, and half way home, the front wheel of my bike collapsed. I was catapulted over the handlebars and ended up on my back with a shattered elbow. If I had taken another route, I would have, at the very least, fallen differently, or perhaps not at all………

And that’s why I point out that there is no complete Oedipus story without the involvement of chance……………specifically, no murder of Laius.

The gods say that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother, so he flees his homeland in order to prevent this fate. He comes to a place where three roads meet, and by chance encounters a group of men going in the opposite direction. They force him off the road and in retaliation he kills them all. Amongst these is Laius…………his real father…………

Thoughts no.8 – some musical “effects” I like

Score of The Star-Spangled Banner

Score of The Star-Spangled Banner

What interests me a lot is the transformation of musical ideas. Not the kind of change that is only made clear by careful analysis, but the sort of overt change you get in Wagner’s thematic transformations. I compare these effects to the use of depth in painting (where the surface is dissolved away). When thematic connections are made between different parts of a work, I can find it quite magical. Having mentioned Wagner, I should nevertheless confess that my two favourite examples of transformation are from Boulez and from my own Magritte Weather – there is in that work a quite wonderful transformation of some initial ideas, made towards the end. And in the fourth movement of Pli Selon Pli, there occurs a superb transformation of ideas first heard in the opening movement. Enchanting.

Although you can liken these effects to recapitulations in classical sonata movements, a better comparison might be made to the altered bridge passages you find there, or to the transposed material that follows on. Incidentally, it is not at all the durchführung sections of sonatas that I like most, though you might assume so. Indeed, it tends to be only the retransitions that I like in this context. I can be fairly sniffy about all those modulations……

And come to think of it, modulations can often strike me as repulsive. The brief one near the beginning of the American National Anthem is truly, truly vulgar. And ludicrously, the music for this anthem apparently derives from a popular British drinking song. What a crass idea, to take a drinking song as your national anthem. Anyway…………

For me, though, nothing is quite so uncomfortable as a slow cadence at the end of a piece, with a long pause on the tonic. That’s like soap under the nails.

I think you could argue that both cadenzas and durchführung sections are primary sources for modern music. Therefore I should like them, I suppose. But the only thing I tend to like about cadenzas are the 6-4 chords that launch them and the perfect cadences that sweep them away.

Thoughts no.7 – the craftsman and the artist

yuioAs so often happens in writing this blog, I come up against a topic I wish I could adequately discuss. But I am only a composer…………and I will have, once again, to use a decidedly unacademic approach………

Let us take as an example of artistry the beautiful gates to Peggy Guggenheim’s palazzo on the Canale Grande. God bless the artist who made them, because they are just wonderful.

…then all around the sleeping castle there grew a dense hedge of thorns, impenetrable to all……save to one…a handsome prince………

Then walk across the across the Ponte dell’Accademia to Piazza San Marco and you see an example of craftsmen at work. With a few quick strokes of the palette knife, these “kitsch painters” can conjure up a Venetian scene – and people DO buy garish things. I myself would never stoop so low of course – indeed, with my refinement of taste, I must in some former life certainly have have been Parisian………

These examples I choose are quite amusing, because you might expect a painter to be classed as an artist. On the other hand, you might expect someone who makes a pair of gates to be classed as a craftsman. Not so in this case.

The two concepts are quite clear when held apart like this. The craftsman has a routine approach. We don’t expect him to be slow about his business. An artist however might well take some weeks asking himself the question “what could a pair of gates be?”

In praise of Wikipedia……….


Maypole dancing

I cannot sing the praises of Wikipedia enough. It so good that you feel it cannot be allowed to continue…………

Here it is on the subject of pornstar Jeff Stryker, who my old friend Peter Wadland once met in a bar and was photographed with………(he showed me the photo proudly)…..

Stryker became known in the adult film industry for his dark-featured good looks, penchant for extreme dirty talk and aggressively dominating his sexual partners, and his large penis, which is cited as 10″ long……………

And here it is on Addington Palace, where I received my first musical education, in the bosom of the Anglican Church……………

…..Due to financial difficulties James Trecothick had to sell the estate in 1802. The next owners were also in financial trouble and sold it by Act of Parliament 1807. This enabled the mansion to be purchased for the Archbishops of Canterbury, since nearby Croydon Palace had become inconvenient. It was now called ‘Addington Farm’ by the Archbishops. It was the residence for six Archbishops of Canterbury…………

Wikipedia is fast approaching the ideal of that fantasy book my friend Hamish dreamed up long ago:- The Book of All Possible Answers………..In that book you will find the true answer to all your questions……….What did Jesus look like? What were the total number of curries eaten by Mother Teresa? What was the Pagan connection to medieval Maypole dancing? On which day did the asteroid hit the earth that killed all the dinosaurs? Did Mr and Mrs Orpheus ever exist? Where is my first school cap? And the jacket that went with it?

Meditation I

melancholyWhen I was a child I used to visit a place not far from my home I called “the black woods”. “Let’s go to the black woods”, I would say. It was a sloping copse of fir trees on the edge of mainly deciduous woodland. I loved it. It was silent (no birds) and the ground was a uniform light brown, and soft – a bit crunchy to walk on because of the millions of dead pine needles.

The other day, during meditation, I placed myself there. I touched and smelled the little dribbles of resin on the bark of trees. I looked at the trunks soaring upwards many feet to the canopy of branches high above. It was mysterious and, somehow, I wanted to remain there, but also to leave. In reality, it was always like that – wishing both to remain, and to leave.

In my meditation I stood there for a few minutes and then stepped out of the wood again on to a grassy slope bordering it, where I used to sit as a child. (The grass was so short it was more like moss – the rabbits kept it like that I suppose). Still in the meditation, I remembered that once it happened that a child was walking by and said something about “that man” to her family (I was then a student). It was the first time I had heard myself called a man and I didn’t like it at all. I had never thought of myself as anything other than a boy and evidently I did not want to be a man.

My thoughts moved on to what happened more recently. I got a lot of replies to a dating advertisement I placed from “men who like older men”. And what I did not like about that was the character I had been given…….that I was no longer a person, but just an eroticized character. I don’t want to be a character, but I am one. I reflected that I do the same myself to others. We all do it……We are all busy with these depersonalizations. “I like black men, I like tall men, I like blonds, I like Asians…I like…..etc etc….”

And I thought “when it comes to the music I write, it is also depersonalized….it is judged for what it is, not what it sees itself as… may call itself one thing and yet be judged another”.

These were the thoughts and feelings that occurred during this meditation. I know that I shall go in spirit to that woodland area again. It is certainly a happier place to be than this one, though the point is, can I escape from here to there? Because here is somewhere I do not like. I do not like it at all. It is horrible.