10 October 2009

A Strange Angel

Well Karl, I’ve listened to the whole CD twice through and have decided I need to be more focused in my approach. I thought I might do better with some visual assistance, and decided to concentrate on The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword, which I’ve now listened to four times. I was sure Blake must have drawn or engraved the subject somewhere, and was surprised to discover that he hadn’t — but no matter; I have a pretty good idea of how he would have depicted it.

So I’ve tried to hold that imagined image while listening, and it definitely made a difference to how the music made me feel. Some of the inconsolable woe seemed to come through — a kind of loneliness. I couldn’t figure out how the more cheerful, chirrupy bits fitted in though. Maybe the angel had mood swings! What worries me a bit is that although I can pick up some of the feeling, I don’t feel that I'm responding to it as music; rather, I'm responding to it as ‘sounds’. So I think I’m probably indulging in a bit of Blakean/Miltonic daydreaming, while you provide a kind of soundscape to that. I’m not at all sure that you’d be happy about that, really. I’m quite concerned that my response is probably a
non-musical one; I’m not aware of any pattern to the notes, or of any sense of musical structure - I’m just riding along with the sequence of sounds. I think that might be a terribly unsatisfactory response, seen from your point of view.

So it’s an interesting thing that I’m doing with it; but I think I may be doing my own thing, rather than what the composer intended. Forgive me for that, if so. Remember I’m an Elgar/Massenet/Handel sort of chap who’s pretty lost without a strong tune to hang on to.

I think the easiest one to come to terms with — because it sounds gentler, and generally easier on the ear — is
Lost Waters. But again, am I responding to the music, or just the sound of a harp? I truly don’t know. So I’m not sure how much of this kind of listening I could do — it seems like pretty hard work, and I end up in an awkward, rather insecure place — but I’ve certainly been interested by what I’ve done so far. So thank you — I really am grateful, because I’d never have attempted this kind of thing without the external nudge that you provided. And I shall keep listening. And if anything interesting happens, you’ll be the first to know.

Wonderful Blake tale you tell, and I completely approve.

On one hand, I did not have any specific program in view for The Angel; the title was sort of a ‘guiding spirit’, and I wrote the music as music (as ’twere).

Having said that, though: certainly that sort of image of a powerful, pure spiritual agent resonates readily with Blake. And as I have tried to interest various trumpeters (it was originally a piece for trumpet solo) and flautists in the piece, I have perfectly frankly described it as “mad, mad” — which likewise, strikes chords with Blake.

So: it is not quite my window onto the piece, but it strikes the composer as a perfectly apt window. I am delighted that you have found such — and, especially, I am touched by your kindness in sticking with the disc, whose musical idiom (I
know) is not your beaten path. Thank you!

And, I encourage you not to get caught back over your response being ‘non-musical’; there is a range of musical response — hardly anyone responds to the music quite the way I do, as the fellow who wrote it, and I think I should be foolish to expect that of, well, almost anyone. My music relates to various idioms of the past, but for the most part my pieces do not readily fit into well-established ‘shelving’; many of my listeners (a small group, but musically varied) respond somewhat guardedly to this or that piece. I am grateful that you have had the patience to pursue repeated listenings; and, it is indeed the only way to get a bead on my general musical world. Hopefully, once the spadework is done, later pieces will not be so much labor!

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