Complete set of my songs based on text from A.E Houseman Shropshire Lad. All available now to stream at that link, along with text. Let me know if you want a copy of the score.
What is memory? I wrote these songs in 1997, and was extremely lucky to have been given a wonderful performance as part of a composers seminar at the University of Pittsburgh. But when I think about these pieces, I don't remember my time at Pitt. I mean, of course I remember my time at Pitt, and I remember writing these songs. I was taking composition tutorial with David Keberle, and we talked a lot about text setting, the craft of making a singer sound good - the language sound good.
I don't know what David is doing now. I thought for a while he still lived in Pittsburgh. According to Google, he has "since the fall of 2004 been a member of the music faculty in the Performing and Creative Arts Department at The College of Staten Island/City University of New York. "
But I was saying - when I think of these songs, they have the valence of much earlier pieces. I chose these texts because I had been listening to George Butterworth. I had been listening to George Butterworth because I was determining an identity, and the identity I wanted was a melancholic British one. My failed dissertation included an analysis of Elgar (Cello Concerto). I hadn't been much exposed to the British folk song collecting tradition before the time I wrote these songs (Vaugh Williams, Cecil Sharpe etc). Though, I had always heard my father singing Benjamin Britten settings of British folk songs.
The first piece I ever wrote was a trio for Oboe, Piano and Violin, while I was at Bates No particular form to the piece, 9 short movements. One of them, variations, really a pastiche from Haydn's Il Mondo della Luna and The Foggy Foggy Dew, as set by Britten. I thought I had a cassette of that. I know I have a cassette of that piece, but I can't find the damn thing which drives me fucking crazy. Maybe what I need to do is write a new piece, a piano piece where I try to reconstruct my memory of the much earlier writing. do I try to recreate the original style? No.
And to say I wasn't much exposed is really a statement of my perspective now, where years mean less. By 1997, I had spent 5 years with Eric messing around with concertinas, listening to Steeleye Span, Ashley Hutchings and John Kirkpatrick. By 1997, I also knew the Berio settings of folk songs sung by Cathy Berberian. I knew Cage The Wonderful Widow.
So what is memory? What is it that when I think about this set of songs I wrote, the writing resides in an incorrect time?
Rupert Sheldrake has a theory of memory that draws on his larger principles of Morphic resonance. An act repeated creates a pattern that draws like to like. A terrible summation of the theory. Suffice to say that when I listen to these pieces now, 15 years after, I do not hear what I expect.
I expect to hear music I don't like. I expect to hear music that doesn't bear any resemblance to what I want to write now. What I hear are some striking stylistic similarities.
I hear a melody supported by repetitive, neurotic attenuation of small patterns. Little finger fidgets. I was profligate with them back then, would keep only a couple now and make a piece. But that's the wisdom of not writing, I suppose. I also hear dramatic distillation, where all that tapping aways reveals a simple harmonic riff as a form of resolution. I like that shift in tone, you can hear it for example at:
Bring In this Timeless Grave 'resolves' with the text "but if the christmas eve..."
The True Lover 'resolves' with the text "oh like enough"
Now, I would try and make the two more connected. But the gesture, the shape is very familiar. Strange to feel such compassion for this younger composer, to know so much about him and the directions he should have taken. To tell him now, that this not that.
I do have a favorite, Into My Heart.
The longer, narrative settings (Grave, True Lover) are exciting as structural exercises. The idea of If it chance was to set the piano as a single rhythmic line, a groove. With Rue uses chords I still come back to (second movement of Yodelling Yaks, piano concerto). I suppose at heart all my composition is an act of pastiche (vandalism).
Apart from being the first of the set I actually finished, Into My Heart uses a riff I wrote for that oboe/violin/piano trio. You can hear it between the line "that is the land of lost content" and " I see it shining" (measure 13 if you have the score). The song ends with what I can only call The Mahler Cadence.