The Poulenc model


I worked on the Poulenc piece, as model, just putting the score in front of me and freely composing lines and chords that – albeit in transposition – resemble some of his material. No one could work out the connection I have made, however, because it’s not systematically done. And the rhythm becomes different, because I push the melancholy beat of the Poulenc into the background. In the foreground, in place of what he has, I set unstable and fragmentary figures, with plenty of “air” in between them. That’s what came into my mind, and I went with it. Working on texture and tessitura, by the way, is something I take time for, I don’t just leave it to chance.

How nice that one can work at a desk with paper and pen and not have to rely on a computer. That must be a bit of a prison. I don’t say that in a spirit of smugness. On the contrary, I am keenly aware that the results of new ways of working can be startlingly good. And not just aware, as, like a shoplifter, I keep my eye open, and my jeans very baggy……………..I just mention the desk thing, because it’s such an exqusite pleasure to write music from one’s head.

This was all done quite quickly and I decided to marry this new sketch with the one I already had from the other day – the one which had strayed “too far” from the model. So now I have a slow movement that has music in close relation to a model and music with a distant connection to it – that distance becoming so great as not to be apprehended, perhaps.

Incidentally, composers vastly overestimate what listners can follow. Of the millions who listen to the Firebird, what proportion follows that simple four note figure Stravinsky uses as theme generator? Yet he blares it out as clearly as possible at the end. And presents it at the beginning, and throughout the piece.

Or come to that, how many people listening to West Side Story, know that a single sharpened fourth works still more transparently as theme generator? That is a master stroke, as the entire mood of the piece is captured there, in miniature.

Yes, in miniature. And I’ve said that a scale is not adequately described as a series of notes, but is instead a spiritual thing, though I think I will be saying that until I am dead………….. Teachers will go on teaching scales as if they are abstract constellations of notes. Or the nuts and bolts of tonality. There is a lot more to it than that.

Back to the idea of a model……………Of course I always think of Picasso, as he is my “bible”. It is adorable how he does a series of representations that become steadily more obscure.

“La Grenouillère” (The Froggery)

1869, Claude Monet, La Grenouillère

1869, Claude Monet, La Grenouillère

In the final years of the nineteenth century, right up until the First World War, a little island on the Seine, named The Froggery, was a resort for painters and writers. Both Monet and Renoir painted it, for example.

Apollinaire’s poem regards this scene in later days, after its popularity has waned. Poulenc’s music for this is surely one of his most exquisite and perfect creations. About it he says, “it is the bumping together of the boats that motivates the rhythm from beginning to end of this tenderly affecting song.”

But I prefer to leave on one side words and scenes when I hear music, and instead listen to what the music has to say to me. Just as in the many popular songs I enjoy, I don’t trouble myself greatly with the issue of texts – the “musical text” is far more interesting to me.

The “text” that moves me so much in this style of French music is its civilised quality. I could find similar tendencies in Ravel and a dozen other composers. It is an adorable quality and such a wonderful contrast to the world, shall we say, of Schoenberg.

I won’t hear a word said against Schoenberg. When you know – if you have a good pair of ears, and the brain to go with it – what he can do, the best thing is to keep quiet and bow your knee to the ground. But the word “civilised” is not one I would use in connection with his work, nor do I think of Expressionism as giving voice to that quality either.

Well, I had the idea to get that “civilised” spirit into my quartet, and I already did make a sketch based on the song. But in so doing, it transformed rapidly into Geoffrey King, which was decidedly not the point of the endeavour………

I got the music of “La Grenouillère” out of the library today and I’ll study it closely. Meanwhile, I’ll give some thought to defining the word “civilised”, in this context. I doubt I shall get far with that however.

Taste, behaviour, tolerance

Thalys 2

Thalys 2

A note today from someone complaining that I was talking “explicitly” about porn yesterday on the blog…..that it was “inappropriate and rather cheap”. “Everybody watches porn movies, but nobody talks about it explicitly”. “And also, you should not insult the actresses ….. some of them did it because they really need the money….”

Well, it got me thinking about taste, behaviour and toleration of others.

I took Michael to Central Station. In the old days, before the very good influence of my last partner, I would have stuck him on the bus and let him get on with it. Or worse still, just said goodbye at the door and expected him to do the whole thing on his own. Instead, I went all the way to the station and waited for the train to arrive and depart, then waved goodbye as it disappeared out of the station. Why? Because he’s a good friend and deserving of respect and consideration.

On the tram we were sat next to a “unit”. That is a roughly spherical shaped woman (Hamish calls them “gronks”). Before anyone complains that no woman should be ridiculed for being fat, let me add that this “unit” had her shoe propped up on the seat in front of her, where other people have to sit. She was also sending out an audible ts ts ts ts from her “personal” stereo/iPod. We shifted our seats, at my insistence.

At the station we came up against the no smoking ban (M is a chain smoker). So that meant hanging around outside for a first fag. And then a second fag on the platform (breaking the law) . On the train it would be no smoking all the way to Brussels.

Some things are banned and others are tolerated. It is a matter of taste, and people are so concerned about cancer that it’s easy to understand the ban in this case. As to a woman on the tram putting her feet on seats where other people have to sit, and also polluting the environment with tinny music, that’s okay………….ish.

I went to the library and picked up what I needed. As I left, I saw a library assistant leaning by the exit, smoking a fag – I asked him about it, and he said he wasn’t allowed to smoke inside. But inside, people carry on loud and lengthy conversations. That’s a greater irritant to me than someone having a puff on a cigarette, though I’m not particularly keen on that either, as it makes me cough.

I walked home down the Prinsengracht and this time got a really good look at the Westerkerk tower. There is no question in my mind that the new bright paint there, picking out several details, is very apt. I like it a lot, though I was thrown by it in the first instance [4/12/07]. But I was only thrown by it because I thought “am I allowed to like this?”

Perhaps even more important than questions of taste and behaviour, are matters of tolerance. If you are too intolerant, then you can’t have the relationships or friendships you would like. Unless you can find someone who shares your exact tastes and standards of behaviour. But what is the likelihood of that? No. Tolerance is a building block in these relationships and also crucial to the political dimension as well.

Just before I reached home, a beggar came up to me – a young handsome man, Asian, thin looking. He asked if I could give him some money to buy something to eat. I said no and moved on quickly. It all happened so fast that it was only as I moved away that I saw how desperate he was. And then I regretted not helping him. I said “I don’t have much money either” but as I walked on further I thought: “yes, not much money, but I can go home, I can eat, I can pull the plug on the phone if I like and do nothing except write music until Friday evening, so, by any reasonable standard, I am rich”. When I looked back, I saw the man heading towards someone else and I felt sorry for him. Oh dear.

Michael caught the Thalys 2, headed for Paris-Nord. It looked beautiful. And suddenly I missed Paris.

Preposterous porn

pornIt’s been in the background for days now, since Michael arrived. Well, the Brits are always attempting to catch up…

This porno channel on the digital TV broadcaster I have is about as stupid as you could imagine. “Asinine” is the word Michael uses for it. Well, that means devoid of intelligence. It also refers to donkeys and asses. And indeed a couple of donkeys having sex would be of more interest than these “guys ‘n’ dolls” on the porno channel. We’ve been laughing at it, but eventually amusement gives way to anger.

Fake groaning, fake lesbianism, fake sucking of cocks, fake orgasms, fake, fake, fake.

And the vagina and anus all stretched out looks like something on a butcher’s slab or a surgeon’s operating table. The penis fares little better. All the penises stick up in the air by the way, which must have meant an awful lot of weeding out during auditions.

Do these women know that the penis has nerve endings? They’re pulling on it like it was a rope in the gymnasium.

And why do they have to look at the camera whilst they’re sucking? And why does each one of them blink in disgust as the cum spatters on their faces? If it’s so disgusting, then go and mow the lawn, or whatever it is you find congenial.

Michael and I have been longing for some old lady to appear in the background during one of those endless, tedious beach fucking scenes. Walking her dog, or taking a shit behind a rock. Anything to relieve the boredom of fake sex.

We’ve been wondering if anyone has managed to subvert the genre. Few things are more worthy of being subverted I should have thought.

Lunch with Jeremy again and swinging breasts

Over to Jeremy’s again for lunch. As I went cycling down the street I saw a beautiful black woman walking along, a sweet smile on her face. She certainly seemed to be enjoying the sunshine, loose breasts swinging back and forth under her T-shirt, nipples standing out. I didn’t feel sorry for the men in her path, however frustrated they might become, I just thought “go for it girl”.

Further along the way I passed the projected mosque in Baarsjesweg, still just a building site. There were a couple of workmen by the entrance and I stopped to ask them if the building was going ahead. They were evasive. Later Jeremy talked about the reasons for the delay.

Lunch was on the balcony, this time under an awning to keep the hot sunsine off. J. drew my attention to a little oak tree in a tub which he said had seeded itself. Visions of a bird flying overhead and shitting an entire acorn…….

On Koninginnedag, J. had stood on the street in the centre of town and sold some of his clothes and kitchen things. I told him that I had seldom been out to take part in Queen’s Day and asked him what the gay parties round Reguliersdwarsstraat are like. He laughed at me, as if to say “how stupid that you don’t know”. But he added that the crowd roundDe Amstel Taveerne is just great and asked me why I never go. He said it was hard to see some of his possessions get sold and I said that when I say goodbye to material things I sometimes give them a kiss. I do that now even with tram tickets before I throw them in the bin. It doesn’t strike me as very normal. And lately when I roll up my apron after work (at the Sorting Office), I sometimes unroll it again and then redo it more neatly.

J. had been to a Handel opera the previous night, so we talked a bit about Baroque as opposed to Romantic opera. His reaction to anyone decrying Puccini is “oh fuck off”. I agreed. We talked also about Poppea and that fantastic final duo Pur ti miro. No words can praise that enough, but I told him that it’s reputed to be by someone other than Monteverdi.

Mentioning this to Michael Bonaventure who arrived yesterday evening, he asked me if I have the Ave Maris Stella from the Vespers. So then we both raved about that too…… words can praise…….etc.etc.

Michael has been cracking up laughing whilst watching the porno channel on my TV in the background. He’s looking forward to “British Bang Babes” on Friday. We discussed my idea to replicate all those high pitched cries and moans in a piece of music. And I told him about my Scots friend Hamish who can do a perfect imitation. Also another story from a friend who once attended a premiere in Aldeburgh Parish Church where the composer had included all too convincing sounds of a female orgasm.

Jeremy told me you can now have a genetic test to determine your ancestry. People are finding for example that they are 10% Asian, 30% Welsh and so forth. But as yet, it’s very expensive.

J. also talked about his ex-boyfriend. He asked me about my situation and I answered, getting so bogged down in the detail that I suddenly said “sorry, I AM getting to the point”. (Nowadays I go into great detail when telling a story and exhaust myself. It must be still worse for those who have to listen). I said, “shall we talk about this another time?” – I knew he was quite keen to continue work. Lunch had taken two and half hours. I did the washing-up and left.

Cycling back I thought again about the lovely woman with swinging breasts and how I would vote for her one thousand times, but just once for the arrival of a new mosque. I said to myself “you are very wrong to think that”.

Family matters

It is my sister’s birthday today. She will be 66. But it was a stupid day. On my way to a lunchtime concert (harpsichord and traverso) I got off the tram so that I could get some money. Then I found my card had expired, so I had to turn back and go home. On the No.12 tram a very cute man opposite me yawned several times. Then I yawned. And then I remembered reading somewhere that yawns are catching like that.

And I remembered how as a small child I used to cry if my mother cried. My father used to yell and scream at her and bang doors when he was drunk. She didn’t often cry, but when she did it broke my heart. My sister would cry too. Though she was older and tougher than I was. Once she picked up a dustbin lid and held it there, like a shield, to defend us. We were cowering in the hallway of that bare house, with almost no furniture or even floor covering, or even light bulbs! And with not enough to eat. And the shame of him being unemployed. There was so much shame in that house. As a child one has almost no words, but one understands many things even so.

I carried some of that shame throughout my life and added my own to it. I speak here of something that many people can understand. And I say to myself and to everyone – this is one prison from which we, like Florestan in Fidelio, can escape………SHAME

Shame even menaced my creative work.

It took me really my whole life to forgive my father for his conduct. This year I shall for the first time remember him on his birthday – May 21st. Next year will be the centenary of his birth and I will discuss with my family how we can best celebrate him. If they don’t want to do anything, I shall myself go to his burial place. I have not visited it since his death in 1976. And I shall thank him, because he always loved me and never hit me or tried to hurt me in any other way. Okay, he didn’t do what men are supposed to do – work, pay for a family, give leadership. But he got one big thing right – he loved me.

There was an odd thing in the middle of these violent rages of my father – he would look at me in a disconcerted way as if to say “no, no, I don’t mean you”. But he didn’t say it. And he never did apologize in any way for what he did in those years.

Once in Venice on the Giudecca over lunch, I was explaining to my friend Marie how it was at home and she began to cry, so I had to stop. But a better reason to stop telling this story is that so many children throughout the world suffer far, far worse. And in telling one’s story, one mustn’t lose a sense of proportion.