I often reason it out thus: like music, I am a temporal creature , I see seventy years of my life as performances, – performance here being analogous to that of theatre, that of certain kinds of conceptual art .
My lived seventy years seem from another angle akin to films seen, my „ notes written on water „ , also to sand-art perhaps , a bit like the snow sculptures of the certain North Greenlanders ( – am I making this up? Certainly…. Why not ? ) My life as a
„sicut fumus „ kind-of-thing.
As many an other rural Irish child of the time I , too, must have been sensitive to the sounds of North Tipperary nature. ( I´ll
do the re-telling of mother´s 100 pigs and my 2. Symphony later. )
I certainly was blown away by Yeats´s „ For the wet winds are blowing / High up on Cloothnabare „ ; my child´s cochlea already knew this . ) . Our saw-mill whined danger, of course, and there was the rhythmic skurting of cows´ whitish milk into the scoured milk-bucket. My childhood was full of immense, loud goings on with sheep and cows and banbhs and sows in our farm-yards.
It is not my intention here to manufacture various Seamus Heaneyesqueries between my early composed music and our farm sound-scape .
Certainly there was that ; but there was more. eg. I sang in our little school , I clapped my hands, I slapped my body around, I produced tones on tin-whistle and box-accordeon. One private thing I was proud of: I surely did patent Corcoran´s Hands And Feet Children´s Composition Plan – I used my right or left fingers ( while pedalling down the country boreens ) to register just newly learned melody-tones; I had the principle three toes of my left or right foot for the few basic chords I learned ; so fingers melody, left or right foot harmony.
And every Tuesday was Fair day; on Borrisokane´s Main Street our country roarer, Paddy Reddan, ´d roar out his „come all yez „ ; mostly pentatonic.
Early enough I wanted to write songs, set poets, compose vocal music ( a Quintet for accordeon and strings of my sixties in Rome was a disaster – I couldn´t get the form of the three movements ; my experience of sound was pitiful , nor had I any knowledge of musical densities ) ; so quite simply, composing a text was a powerful help . ( To compose one minute of music is hard, but to compose five is much harder )
I loved solo and choral singing, the feel of my own breath
and the choir´s plastic lines and chords, dark, light, densities, slender or thickly matted , high dives and depths, dark/ bright colours , shapes.
DÁN AIMHIRGÍN ( 1971 ) ( – I must have been the first Irish composer ever to use this extraordinary Early Irish poem, a pantheistic God-litany; quite thrilling its climax ) calls for eight second altos improvising on the low C with the words „ Am „ „ gaoth „, „ gaoth i muir“, ( „ I am the wind on the sea“ , – Celtic God Aimhirgin´s self-definition in Iron Age Ireland ; His final „Am Brí Dána „ / „ I Am This Meaning“ analogous to the Genesis „ Eye Asher Eye „ ) , then another eight altos murmuring these magic syllables on the D, eight second sopranoes on the E and then the first sopranoes on F Sharp. A vibrating whole-tone chord. Then , as the high tenors enter on the G above these thirty two women´s voices with the „ Gaoth“ , my choral effect is magical .
A simple, fresh choral idea. But excellent.
Then the 1994 MEDIEVAL IRISH EPIGRAMMES which set short Japanese Haiku-like miniatures from our
Middle Ages , eg. Take : „All are keen to sleep with blond Aideen . All Aideen herself will own / Is that she will not sleep alone…. „ .
Thirty years later , other terse texts were to spark off the choral NINE WAYS OF LOOKING AT AN IRISH POEM BY GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK . Listen !
„ As tobar duaigh spéire / Líonann crainn / A ngoib“ . “From the ink-well of the sky / Trees fill / Their beaks. ”
And here I had a solo violin introduce , separate , commingle with my nine choruses.
Simple, but simple only after you´ve composed it. How then later would I set a for large polyphonic choir my 2012 EIGHT HAIKUS ( this time the Haikus were my own ) ?
How handle Framk Corcoran texts like :
„ Deep purple twilight / In the bay lie three islands / Asleep like children „ . ?
So vocal music you can hang on the peg of the text, of the words.
But what about instrumental music, then ?
My 1974 THREE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA ( „Scenes from My Receding Past „ ) I had the chance to re-programme years later in an Dublin orchestral concert of 2000 with the SECOND SYMPHONY ; I was delighted – after over twenty five years, still fresh sounds, fresh acts of youthful courage in painting symphonic canvas. It´s stretch your colour imagination; let the expanding forms create, explode .
Of course musical ideas come from all over the place. The PIANO TRIO of 1977 was my break-through with my macro-counterpoint ; it too dares new colours , its not quite arch-form
singing and sputtering and blazing and searing and singeing whatever it was that I had wanted to singe . A short time later I got this macro-counterpoint , the wind polyphony which I wanted into the WIND QUINTET.
That´s it. ( About the four symphonies, I´ll writhe much later. )
became clear to me that music was a metaphor, of course, for transience –
so expression and self-expression, fine, but how do you get rid of the „ I „ in the sound – forgeing which you´re engaged at ?
The computer-painted works were different again . My 1980 BALTHAZAR´S DREAM ( – why didn´t I then call it „ BALTHAZAR´S SCREAM „ ? ) , generated by the terror of Borges´s minor masterpiece , „The Gospel According to St. Mark „ I spliced together at the Electronic Studios of
the West Berlin Technical University.
And that Guantanamo scream bursts out again twenty years later – in my digital TRADURRE TRADIRE
of 2002 for Deutschlandfunk. Its electronic predecessors, both WDR commissions, SWEENEY´S VISION in 1997 and QUASI UNA MISSA in 1999 went on to win , respectively, the Bourges Festival Premier Prix in 1999 and the Swedish E.M.S. Prize in 2002 . Was that important for this composer ? Of course !
Mol an óige. Encourage and praise good work . It was desperately needed in them for me bad nineties.
It is the isolation. It is courage. Put the head down, progress and shove. Slap it down. Write. ( Brahms to his only ever composition student: „ You must write, write, Every day! Don´t worry about its quality ; write it all down. But stop worrying about the weak stuff – the stove will look after that…. „
Create. Burst. – All words I´d use in struggling to write about my life-long working with sound. A sound man .
It took me thirty years to see that I´d often used as a ( unconscious, of course ) musical motive in many of my works the melodic motif C D and E ( or Doh / Re / Mi / ) . Why ? Because they are the initial „ Requiem“ tones
in the Gregorian Mass for the Dead.
Says it all, does it ? Music as metaphors , as distress and help signals, your call into the tomb. Music as the Orpheus myth. – All of this , of course, only after we´ve accepted music firstly as play, as tone- carpentry , as sounding architecture.
Lutoslawski died on Monday 7. February 1994 , just twenty years ago. What courage – what exemplary musical and human courage was there in his life as a composer . You´ve got to be tough nowadays .
Myriad temptations beckon; among the most vicious are: The Genetic Fallacy ( „ Her compositions derive from her life…. „ – though , mind you, they also do…. ) or „ A Musical Work´s Worth = Its Performance“ ( Thus eg. „ My music is good because it´s played well…. „, then with its charming corollary: „ My music´s played, therefore it´s good. „ . Well, is it good? Why? ).
With the recent Concerto for Violin and then the Concerto for Violoncello, maybe I´ve sneaked around the full circle ( -my cycle of fifths ? ) and the newer instrumental works want to sing even more.
I´d like to write a Clarinet Concerto, to have a shot at an Alto Rhapsody. I´d compose a Fourth String Quartet . If .
Music to ravish. The pure line AND the pure drop, the vertical AND horizontal, sounding densities PLUS then the reeling , sonorous line ( – which itself might be built out of various sub-lines ) .
It´s easier to talk than to compose . Getting harder to avoid self-quotation too .
What´s left to be original about ? Perhaps plenty. ( You won´t know till you do it. )
At the Zagreb Biennale 2013 they did my ancient PIANO TRIO, those young Zagreb Piano Trio lads, their immense paws, huge, warm sounds from all the three players. The original scaffolding of the Trio held firm, strong, because I´d built it well in 1977.
Scream and song. Surge or soar. How to get the ecstasy into the mix and wash, I continuously wonder ?
In order to make the structure secure, steady, ready .
Composing is better than decomposing, they say ; it seems to defie the second law of thermodynamics. No bad thing this .
The argument seems sound; I composed the new HOT DIALOGUES just now to fight ( for the moment ) death. To be
remembered for the musical conceits and cunning stunts.