IÂ´d asked for a fine shower of left hand pizzicati . Delicately silvery. Difficult. We rehearsed the new string quartet near RodinÂ´s bronze haunch in the central hall of the Hugh Lane Gallery. How much bow-hair for the ” col legnos” ? I was glad to be back in rainy Dull Bin ( – I quote a colleague; he shall remain nameless, his quip writ on sullen dock-waters ) from Burg Ham, seeing Jack Yeats and T.P.Flannegan and those Barry Cooke pictures again. The invernal, special luminosity of the afternoon prompted this: why was it that, heard in such an ambience, such a special art-gallery, my new quartet reinforced the fullness of time which all astonished ears will hear , the workÂ´s reeking temporality , an ensembleÂ´s narration of the stringy sections as they unreeled like a long fishing-line in the Georgian room ?
ItÂ´s derived from the opening clot, the tangled skein of four voices, a knot of strings, cat-gut, I was gravely telling my agogic audience next morning at The Composer Talks, He Shoots From The Hip , Belvedere Apollo Animates His Hearers. They nodded approval. Let us be moved by the catÂ´s suffering. The sum of its parts equals the whole screeching, sawing, amputating thing. A quartet of strings seeks a quiet ending after whose travail ? I did not trot out – once again – my ComposerÂ´s Breakfast Argument, how words move, music moves, but only in time. Rilke and Rodin and T.S.Eliot rustled a little. My four musicians started together. They knitted and joined and fitted and soldered, creating great arched lines, flageolet chorales, little solos and bits of tutti, gridded and non metric music. It became one drawn-out musical thought-process . What, O Hugh Lane Gallery Trinity, if thereÂ´s actually nothing behind the must- green DirectorÂ´s Door ? What had I, composing the quartet, been thinking of ? Consider: A musical enough farmer successfully sold five pigs at the Borrisokane market. Pig number one he delivered to the buyer, then he drove home to bring the second pig into town; this he also delivered to the dealer ; likewise pig number three and then his remaining fourth and fifth . It was the five trips and the separate pig-deliveries which finally compelled the buyer to ask if this way of selling five animals wasnÂ´t a terrible waste of time. ” Time”, our philosopher-farmerÂ´s immortal answering twist to St. AugustineÂ´s theme :” But , shure, what is time to a pig ? ” Zbigniew Herbert ( he was in great poverty at the end, the Polish poet returned to die “at home” ) would have laughed his philosophic guts out. No mean musician himself, his REPORT FROM PARADISE, the closing lines, would have fitted in at the Hugh Lane Gallery:
” As it is now every Saturday at noon / Sirens sweetly bellow / And from the factories go the Heavenly proletariat / Awkwardly. Under their arms they / Carry their wings like violins.”
So how does each new phase of life follow from the previous one? Logically, or through a sudden discontinuity? Do I draw strength from a false belief that I am changing and growing, when in fact IÂ´m stubbornly staying the same? In the hall Rilke was silent as the grave. Eliot in the Gallery buried himself embarrassedly, a cluttered montage. RodinÂ´s bronze haunches stood in bronze stillness.
Yes, everything in that string-quartet was derived somehow from My Gesture OneÂ´s sounding material. The whole thing was writhing in rawls of left-hand pizzes and wood-taps and lyric phrases of high, beautiful pathos and prayer and sigh and yell. There is , as a point of fact, in this composition no Marsyas to be flayed alive ( he was a wind-man, a mind-blower, a doomed aulos-player of Sweet Grecian Blues ) , itÂ´s all cat-gut sheen. The players could down- and up-bow third- and sixth-stoppings in the middle of my synchronized mess, lyric droppings , melodic curlicues, heart-stops and stunning stunts way up on the E-string, dark Rembrandteries on a low viola, a cello caoine.
I didnÂ´t dare trot out My Unanswered Question: was the premiered work a reflection of , or derivement from, or reaction to , or expression of and metaphor for this composerÂ´s breakfast ? For eg. leaves out of the chapters of my life ? Actually , I didnÂ´t think so. What then, so ? For my belief in form ? For wordsÂ´and tonesÂ´ tautological motion in time ? Smart thinkers lump mathematics, chess and music together because they do create their own auto-referential worlds and rules and discourse and solutions to sublimity, economy, daring, wordless courage . Will we here have to add to this short list the ” art” of fishing and cooking and driving while drinking vintage red and , maybe,composing a dreamÂ´s end or a story about five pigs and a farmer or an explanation why somebody would go at all to the Marsyas / Apollo trouble of writing a new string-quartet ?
Will we ? Chess, okay. Mathematics , too, is a closed shop. Music, however, gets in under layers of skin-cancer , affects breath and heart-beat and growing old in that rainy, wintry Hugh Lane Gallery of visual and musical arts, wringing withers , touching woe and ecstasy and, at least so it felt, timelessness. Odd. I was sweating. I was in the musical now. Yet it was definitely unreeling. A sequence of quartetish happenings. A skein unravelling at great speed. Rilke and Eliot hid further. Only RodinÂ´s haunches, fine bronze poured, remained. What was time and being to a pig ? Could Jack Yeats have painted that ? Had shining Apollo any answer ?
Zbigniew Herbert again: ” Marsyas / Howls ! / Before the howl reaches his tall ears / Apollo reposes in the shadow / Of that howl…. ” I see see them four now, my Quartet for the End of Time. St. Augustine plays a big cello line. Jack Yeats is washing a painted viola; the philosophical farmer plays the second violin and his fifth, sold, siderificated pig leads.