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About this Piece

These five short movements are based loosely on poems by René Char. Char’s work often seems to contain multiple -- and often contradictory -- layers of imagery, and it is in particular this aspect of his work, together with its strong and often surrealistic lyrical vein (the ‘mountainous country of the Vaucluse, its luminous wakeful nights and its pungent herbs and legends,’ in the words of Mary Ann Caws) that suggested musical parallels to me. These include the combining of several musical strands (or even of several structures) simultaneously, and exploring the ways in which these might overlap and interact.

The opening movement is based on The Lark: ‘She is forever set in dawn, singing the troubled earth. She who fascinates is dazzled to death.’ The brief second movement explores the violent contradiction between the opening two lines of The Poplar Tree’s Effacement: ‘The hurricane is stripping the woods. I lull the tender-eyed lightning to sleep.’ The more static central movement (based on Invitation) provides a moment of repose, with the slow unfolding of a single chord: ‘I summon the lovers that, racked and followed by summer’s scythe, embalm the evening air with their white inactivity. No longer nightmare, soft perpetual sleeplessness. No more aversion. Only a pause in a dance whose entrance is everywhere among the sky-drifts...’ The fourth movement is circular in form, its fleeting nature mirroring a fragment from The Consequences…: ‘Billions of years flowing in the influx from everywhere, and circular, the song of Orpheus, never at an end.’ The final movement, based on Lutteurs (Wrestlers), is generally more subdued: ‘In the sky of men the star’s bread seems to me shadowy and hardened, but in their narrow hands I read the joust of these stars calling others: emigrants from below deck still dreaming; I gathered their golden sweat, and through me the earth ceased to die.’

Joseph Phibbs