Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer…………..

San Giorgio dei Greci, Venezia

San Giorgio dei Greci, Venezia

In the year 2000, in Venice, sitting in San Giorgio dei Greci, for the Sunday morning mass, I felt so wretched that I thought “this has gone far enough”. Returning to Amsterdam, I located a therapist and started going to him, sticking with it for about two and a half years. At the end of that period however, I was no more the wiser as to why I had lost my peace of mind than I had been, sitting in the Greek Orthodox church in Venice. I mean I was utterly oppressed for no obvious reason, and in the city I love most…..

I don’t propose to make an attack on psychotherapy here. I’m not competent to do that. But I can speak about my experience at least.

The therapist wore very ugly shoes. Indeed they were the cheapest looking shoes I had ever seen. Different pairs, he had, all of them ugly. Always unpolished, sometimes with shoelaces untied and sometimes actually dusty. Sitting there in the corner, like a rather boyish Buddha, he cut an unimpressive figure. Well, I wasn’t going to condemn him for that, of course.

I have heard of people who have floods of tears during therapy. I find that odd. My sessions couldn’t have been less upsetting. It was always the same. I would sit there chatting away quite openly, telling some story in great detail and this guy would say “well time’s up”. What WAS impressive, was that he could remember and refer to all these stories. I assumed he had some method to facilitate memory.

I did once or twice feel some emotion during these sessions. But it was anger, not grief. Once arriving at his house I met him coming home – he was late. He got completely flustered and couldn’t even greet me properly. He handled it like an embarrassed schoolboy. Settling down a few minutes later in my accustomed chair, I tackled him quite angrily on the subject.
There were some other ludicrous moments. In the beginning he asked me to tell him about the dreams I was having. I did that happily because I like my dreams and they fascinate me. After several weeks of doing this he suddenly snapped “why are you trying to impress me?”

Then after two and half years of talk (95% me talking 5% him talking) he said that the health insurance money was coming to an end and that if I continued with him, I would have to pay more. I said I would think about it and I discussed it with my (new) partner, who said that I didn’t have the ability to make a judgement about a therapist as I had no idea what he might be trying to do. It might seem like nothing, but maybe it was actually something. Nevertheless he felt that two and half years should be enough time for this guy to have made an impact. So I went back to the therapist and told him what my partner advised. At that point he blew up and said “this is insulting”. He added that we could have found a way round the money problem and that he had not at all finished with me. I found this tantrum absurd coming from a man who was supposed to be my therapist. Why didn’t he say these things in the first place instead of simply telling me that the fee was going to go up?

Looking back on this after five years I am quite clear as to what I was trying to achieve with Mr X. I wanted to know why I had lost my peace of mind and how I might restore it. I got no answers to either of these questions. Not from him and not from myself. Indeed I still have the same questions.

By the way, the partner I found towards the end of this course of therapy was himself a kind of therapist and that is why I sought his advice on the subject. I was quite astonished when Mr X claimed some credit for my having found a partner……as if I were incapable of reaching out to someone, back in 2000. It was yet another ludicrous moment. Oh dear.

On the plus side, I found the man both kind and sensitive. And he seemed to respect me. He also appeared highly intelligent and it was nice to be with him. Very occasionally he would make a joke. Once, when I had been droning on about my family for the umpteenth time, I asked “do other people talk about their families?” And he replied “that’s all I ever hear about”.

I do believe what my then partner said to me……that in such a case, you cannot know what is being done and therefore mustn’t leap to judgement. And there were some insights. Once, when I had been lamenting the importance of money in the breakdown of relations with my family, Mr X came up with an unusually emphatic statement: “Geoffrey, money is love”. These moments were nice, and stay with me.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer;
Be thou still my strength and shield;
Be thou still my strength and shield…………………………


Geoffrey King in Amsterdam

Geoffrey King in Amsterdam

Hamish made a photo of me today with his new digital camera, sitting next to the window in my living room. What a big bright nose I have! A digital camera can be so truthful sometimes, and here you see the rugged masculinity of my strong and forceful character streaming out…… (he-he)

We went out to dinner in a Wok Restaurant where you can choose your own raw ingredients and have them stir-fried in front of you.

After that we walked in Erasmus Park.

But our main business of the day was to discuss in minute detail my affairs of the heart. Hamish thinks I am very naive and unable to handle the various risky alternatives open to me.

Ho-hum. It seems that no matter how old a man gets, he never gives up hope of finding that “great folly” called love. In my case, rolling around on broken bottles and sharp cobblestones through all these years has not deterred me from searching for The One. It would be banal and untrue to regard this as just “being horny”. I know that some women think men have their brains situated in their dicks…….but, my dick seems to be situated somewhere in Africa, so try that for a problem…………

This is the “Call of the Wild” (my father’s favourite book) and in the wild you can, of course, easily die. Somehow, just shopping for curtains and light fittings in IKEA doesn’t compare. And never will, I guess.

String Quartet no.2 (in progress)

Laura Burton (Alia) in Dune

Laura Burton (Alia) in Dune

I have been, mostly, very relaxed about composing this new string quartet. I’ve been doing only two hours a day, sometimes less, sometimes nothing. Usually, I am stressed out with worry about chasing deadlines, and whether the new piece will be any good, or “really new”, or “out of date”. Or this, or that. Well, there are several dozens of such possible worries (“voices”, as I call them). And the more seriously you take them, the more serious they become. In addition, when I was somehow aligned with a group of colleagues, back in the UK, I had in mind a standard to which I was aspiring. Actually, I doubt that anyone just writes for themselves. Even if there is no actual target audience, there is always “the hypothetical other”, as Stravinsky puts it.

But usually at this stage of a piece – there are now pages and pages of sketches and even finished sections in biro or pencil (nothing on computer though, as yet) – I am getting very concerned about “what is this?” “What is this piece and how do I justify it?” These moments of concern are the source for some of the “subjects” of my pieces. Round about this moment, there is a quite urgent search for something to focus the material on. That was the case with Magritte Weather (1990), for example.

It is a story that I once told in a progamme note……In my apartment in the Hague on the Grote Markt, it was very hot in the summer of 1990. I had hung a dark blue bedsheet at the window, because I had no curtains and I was blocking out the sunlight this way. One day I noticed that some beautiful blue light was falling on to my manuscript. There was a small tear in the sheet and that was the source of a little patch of light – only about the size of a matchbox……

Right after that, I dreamed about Magritte. His eye sockets were completely filled with the same blue light (clearly, also a reference to the “spice” aspect in the novel Dune). I think it was in this same dream that I reached out to shake Magritte’s hand, and he refused it. If so, I should have taken the hint………….for surely Magritte Weather has very little to do with the kind of oneiric surrealism he went in for. The title is extremely charming, but the real title should be something like Chamber Symphony.

Perhaps one day I will write a REAL oneiric piece………………
For the new string quartet, I did not reach out for “subject matter”. But in a quite separate enquiry (a meditation) I got a fleeting and faint (we can do a lot with fleeting and faint) image of a woman crying out, and a long strand of hair. That image was in my memory somewhere and when I searched, I could quickly locate it. It was Rapunzel in her tower, singing, with her long tresses falling down from the window. So, as my quartet was without “subject”, and this meditation was important to me, I decided to marry the two together. Well, what else does one do, but marry and produce………….? It’s normal. We can do that.

So, the working on the music, got a sort of focus. A narrative, a program. Needless to say, several days later, after having taken this turning (oh, what a crooked road this is), I woke up in a state of stress. A voice was saying “you are just doing something 175 years out of date…..what Berlioz did……and how can you justify that?”

So that’s why I say the work on this piece has been mostly relaxed. I imagined subsequently that dealing with some of these “voices” is like tackling a cliff face – something in one’s nature to explore and to climb, but something that must be tackled without any presumpteousness.

I don’t know what sort of music “I am supposed to be writing”. I didn’t make myself, nor this musical epoch I am in.

In truth, this new piece has just been sprouting energetically all on its own. Even when I lie down for a rest it goes on developing. Like the six cactus plants in my front window. They began as snippets from elsewhere, just as the quartet did (Poulenc was one source and a theory book on jazz, another) and they have been shooting out in all directions. I am in agreement with the cactii. That much I am sure of. Yes, I like them, and it can be that they also like me. Why not?

Chamber music at the Bimhuis, Amsterdam

Bimhuis and chamber music

Bimhuis and chamber music

The performance last night with Frances-Marie Uitti and Paul Griffiths in “there is still time” was a most beautiful and poignant event. The work is described in Paul Griffiths’ website as “scenes for speaking voice and cello, the spoken part using just Ophelia’s vocabulary in Hamlet”. And in the programme as “an intimate and touching portrait of love and loss, memory and hope…” Paul Griffiths himself performs the text. Here are some reviews of the piece from his website:-

I found it to be a wonderful and novel way to renew the tradition of chamber music. I don’t know if it is the case (I’ve heard it said) that composers now tend to neglect chamber music in favour of big ensembles, orchestras, opera houses. If so, listening to this duo for speaker and cello, should remind them of the power that exists in a minimal setting.

I can pay tribute to Uitti in this way – the harpsichordist Gerard van Vuuren said to her after the performance that the bow becomes part of her arm, and the cello becomes part of her. I have a feeling about that too. For me, as soon as she picks up the bow something inside says “oh, this is special”. Anyone reading these reactions should make sure to see her (she tours quite a lot) and find their own way of describing exactly what it is she is doing with this instrument. It’s a remarkable achievement. There is the two bow technique, the admirable improvisations, the possibilities of the instrument itself (last night an electronic cello and [I think for the first time] her recently acquired METAL CELLO). But in the end, it’s not about these aspects, it’s about what Gerard pointed to………

There is nowhere for the performer to hide in this setting. Indeed, it’s not about hiding, it’s about intimacy. The public is very close to the sound. In the Bimhuis last night, there was no stage, so the performance space dissolves into the auditorium and the auditorium dissolves into the bar space behind. And from the bar, it’s just a vista of water. So the venue seems to be all about openness. It’s uplifting, that’s for sure.

Afterwards people were going up to Frances’ little gaggle of instruments like curious spectators in a zoo. A dangerous moment. Those instruments can bite if approached carelessly. And one woman caught her leg on a spike. Heh-heh.

The instruments can make tiny tiny sounds. The metal cello was having its waist tickled at one point by some bow hairs. A faint breathy sound came out.

As to the musical material in general, you would expect some lamentation at certain points……..and yes, there is enough of it to satisfy an Elgar, I think. And when the two bows come out and there are four note chords, the chance to have some rich tonality is not funked. So some baroque chord progressions appear. But arrived at from an oblique angle, touched on and quickly abandoned.

All the while, the voice, through the microphone, is making sounds that can, if they want, marry together with the cello ones. Those faint breathy cello sounds I mentioned were matched by breathy sounds from the speaker. And when the voice rises to a shout, out comes a second rank cello that can be slapped about a bit and doesn’t mind. (Mmm…..I wonder what that feels like…..?)
The movements are well proportioned. There are some short ones. This is vital, because the big trap awaiting improvisers is the tendency to be prolix.

Afterwards, people sat quietly. I didn’t myself feel like moving either. Eventually I carried some of the instruments downstairs to the dressing room and then joined my friends in the bar for a few beers.

Ophelia drowning – above it’s Harold Copping – just for a change……….

Thoughts. No.6 – Singers


Tagged 564, Musée Condé, The Manuscript Chantilly

Listening to some medieval vocal music yesterday morning, I was sickened by how the singers handled it. Absolutely sickened, for the umpteenth time, by what singers do to the material they are given.

In this case it’s a power thing. Who can, hand on heart, swear that they know how a Minnesinger, or a troubadour, would have sounded? Or how theCantigas de Santa Maria would have sounded?

So it’s carte blanche for the singers, sod them. They only have to get the pitches and rhythms right. (In contemporary music, they don’t even feel obligated to do that……they just wobble along, going up and down roughly at the right moments………but in a terribly “impressive” display of bel canto, of course……..)

So I was fuming away, wondering precisely how to define what I detest so much in thisespressivo, and how to counteract it, when, by chance, a possible solution presented itself….

Further along on the CD was a recording of some Codex Chantilly pieces in the Ars Subtilior style of the 14th century. Marvelous for me, some polyphonicballades……….absolutely adorable. (Composers such as Symonis, Suzay, Solage and des Molins).

But of course the singers have to count like crazy to do these things, or they fall apart. They are so busy counting that they don’t have any time for their usual espressivofarting……

Thoughts. No. 5 – Surviving the day

"Melancholy" by Edvard Munch

“Melancholy” by Edvard Munch

Let those who need to go to the therapist just go. Go, get on with it. And those who don’t want to go (can you blame them? – that person sitting there in the corner, saying nothing, is probably earning a lot more money than they are, right now), whether they need to or not, let them stay at home and survive the best they can. Stay or go. It’s probably all the same in the end.

You don’t have a god to help you, and you yourself are not one. (What god drinks six cups of coffee in a row for no good reason?)

This is my thought about how you will survive (and I will give you this advice free of charge). Make a list of the five things you have to do today. Then randomly decide which order to do them in. Then assign one hour to each task. Then follow the clock obediently, as a child does, at school. If there were a god, I am sure he would give you just the same advice as I am giving you now.

As to the greater malaise of your life, you’re on your own, baby.

String Quartet no.2 (in progress) and a reference to Vivaldi’s “Not The Seasons”

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

The ten methods of development (“change” is a less loaded word) chosen for the quick music of the first movement were not all used up:- 1/transposition 2/new register 3/inversion 4/retrograde 5/chromatic decorations 6/divisions into sixteenths 7/cantabile 8/double stops 9/pizzicato 10/hocket.

This list could have been carefully chosen, or randomly chosen or spontaneously chosen.

As far as texture is concerned, I spread the material (a fake folk dance) either in solo form or in duo form, in the following ways:- S./A./T./B./S.A./S.T./S.B./A.T./A.B./T.B. Of course, where these extensions coincide, they may even result in four-part textures. And you have solo moments, duos and trios.

I already alluded to the problem of formlessness [Sunday, May 20th] and it happened that I liked very much the first duo I wrote (bitonal in harmony, but polyphonically good, also). So I decided to make a ritornello from that.

This is not the only baroque reference. I had meanwhile taken the first of the sketches from the Poulenc model and changed my mind about what to do with it [Thursday, May 10th]. I have made it into a single mood, texturally constant slow movement, such as you can find in Vivaldi (his op.8 no.1 and 3 have slow movements like that). Incidentally, I intend to call Vivaldi’s
“Not The Seasons” just “op.8″ from now on. I hope others will follow suit.

That “single affection” kind of movement is the simplest thing you can do. So why choose it? Three reasons. 1/ It breaks the habit of trying to be difficult and complex in order to impress colleagues. 2/ It was the first thing that came into my mind and so the choice breaks with the habit of calling into question one’s imagination. 3/ Like a meal, a piece needs contrast, and simplicity contrasts well with complexity.

I like concerts that have varied “courses” too. Six grim dirges in a row are not very appetizing. But Satie’s flouting of such classical music conventions in the Gymnopédies is vastly entertaining. And in Vexations, even more so.