Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Walking out in the big sky

It’s been a long, long day, and my feet feel like two lumps of iron.

The morning was spent in my new cafe, working on the latter stages of the Offertory in my Requiem. This movement seems to have written itself, incredibly quickly, primarily, I suspect, because I've given the music so much space. I set out to write something a little less four-square this time; a movement with slightly more rhythmic flexibility for the performers. One of Fiona’s criticisms about what I’ve written so far is that I've tended to rather mark out every beat with music; I've filled all the spaces, and as Nathan puts it; "never knowingly underscored." This is a criticism which rings very true, and I'm going to need to do a large amount of pruning when I start the second draft.

I worked until lunchtime, and then went into town with Fiona, to visit the Vorticist exhibition at Tate Britain. Vorticism is a fascinating artistic movement which started just before the First World War and sadly petered out before the end, partially, one suspects, because a number of its exponents were killed in the trenches. I suppose it sits somewhere between futurism, cubism and dadasim in the spectrum of early 20th Century creative movements. A lot of the art work it generated focuses on metalic-looking, geometric shapes, in muted browns and greys, but there’s also an element of primitivism, which probably intensified as the horrors of the Great War began to emerge.

A little-known fact about my even less well-known musical, Blast, (which you can hear here) is that it’s based on the Vorticist manifesto, which goes by the same name. The Vorticists never took themselves too seriously, and routinely wrote long lists of things they despised under the heading “Blast.” So, for example, they would “Blast Lyons Corner houses, and Beecham pills” and various artistic figures who they'd fallen out with during the week of publication. The opposite of blast was bless. So the Vorticists duly blessed hairdressers... or the French (although they also blasted the French!) There was little consistency, but tenuous reasons were often supplied for their black and white opinions.

It was fascinating to see some of the paintings and passages from the manifesto which had inspired my musical, and I realised how lucky, and, let’s face it, ahead of my time, I was to stumble upon the original manifesto in the British Library in the late 1990s and recognise it as something unique. Bless me, bless Fiona for coming with me, and bless those wonderful Vorticists!
The original Vorticist manifesto front page. The original was a far more shocking pink!

We met up with one of Fiona’s friends, Anthony, at the art gallery, and sat on the steps for some time, comparing dreadful reviews we’d received over the course of our careers. Anthony was once described as "a diminutive man in a cheap, second-hand suit" but I think I trumped everyone with the weird internet stalker I attracted around the time of A Symphony for Yorkshire. He’s the weird bloke who seemed to think it was appropriate to not just write a poem warning me to back away from Yorkshire, but record himself reading it in a sort of creepy “I’m out of my tiny mind” kind of way. You can see the astonishing clip here.
We walked around the rest of the Tate, and I fell in love with a painting of the sea by Turner. I’m not usually a big fan of paintings of the sea – or paintings for that matter – but this one moved me. There was something about the dream-like swirls of light, and the colour of the sky.

This print does nothing to capture the magical light of the painting I saw

We walked from the Tate to Westminster to look at the cenotaph, and then up to Soho where we ate in a cheap Italian restaurant on Old Compton Street. The food, and a remarkable pink and powder blue sky, that Turner would have been proud of, gave us a second wind, and we walked through Fitzrovia, around Regent’s Park, up to Camden and all the way to Kentish Town, where we finally got on a bus back to Highgate. I think we must have walked ten miles today, and I've loved every minute.
Check out that sky!

August 24th 1661, and the diary presents us with a passage that I quoted in the second movement of my motet. Because it’s so fabulous, I feel the need to quote it here in full.

By and by we are called to Sir William Batten's to see the strange creature that Captain Holmes hath brought with him from Guiny; it is a great baboon, but so much like a man in most things, that though they say there is a species of them, yet I cannot believe but that it is a monster got of a man and she- baboon. I do believe that it already understands much English, and I am of the mind it might be taught to speak or make signs

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