Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Patek Philippe exhibition of luxury watches at the Saatchi Gallery in London. The security presence was intense, as this collection of beautiful timepieces (which were mostly made of gold or platinum and many encrusted with diamonds and jewels of all kinds) represents considerable value. We were also given an insight into the workmanship involved in the making of all the intricate parts of these watches, as well as the time and skill required to do so.
I’m very glad to say that I have no photographs to share with you from this exhibition. The clicking of smartphones was irritatingly continuous and I’m sorry to say that the smartphones often got a better view of the objects on display than did I. The joy of experiencing and appreciating things in the present, with one’s own eye, seems to have now lost out to the desire to “share” things via social media after the event.
Nonetheless, I feel very privileged to have visited the exhibition and to have seen these watches at close quarters. It also rekindled a desire on my part to compose a piece based on the idea of the passing of time and how we are made acutely aware of this by the timepieces around us.
However, this idea will have to join my ever increasing wish list. Some posts ago I said that I wanted to compose a piece about the Klimt painting “Adele Bloch-Bauer I”, which was the subject of the recent film, “Woman in Gold”. I’m pleased to say that I’ve been working on this piece and will be ready to unveil this within the next week or so.
I wonder where other people actually write their blog posts? My current “office” is my local Krispy Kreme doughnut cafe. There are worse places to spent your time – and I find the words flow incredibly well over a mocha and a doughnut!
Old fashioned as I am, I always write long-hand – and always in pencil – in a little notebook. Being a touch typist with a prowess of sixty words per minute this is quickly transferred to the laptop.
This friendly, local cafe has also become a place where I do creative work and think about the structure of new compositions. Novelists and writers of all kinds have long been known to write in cafes and restaurants, J.K. Rowling being a prime example in recent times. So if it’s good for novelists it must be good for composers too!
The film “Boyhood” will never so much as enter the top forty of my favourite films – it was too long by a least one third of its running time and the storyline lost its way and went severely off-piste of me around half way through the proceedings. The music choices, however, were clever – and one real musical gem was the song “Hero”, which propelled the band “Family of the Year” from relative obscurity to well-deserved fame.
The subject matter – the burden of responsibility faced by someone growing up and reaching maturity – was almost too perfect a fit for the film. The emotion expressed in the song is very direct and emotional.
But of course I’m listening with the ears of a composer who hears things in terms of construction and technique. Quite apart from the obvious beauty of the melodic line and its accompanying harmonic progressions, what, for me, makes the song so successful in building and maintaining tension and momentum is the interesting fact that it doesn’t use what we call a “perfect cadence” even once in the song until right at the end – after the singing has finished. Every verse ends on an imperfect cadence – or, in the language of the layman, sounds unfinished, as though wanting to move on rather than finish. I would love to know if this was intentional on the part of the song writer. I suspect not, and that it was pure serendipity, growing organically from the feelings expressed in the words. But I think that maybe this element of the song’s construction turned what might have been merely a nice song into a really great song.
We’ve all heard of the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”, but few of us know the true meaning behind the words. The first published record of the song dates back to 1744 but there is also reference to a square dance bearing the same name in a 1665 publication. The longer version of the rhyme conjures up an image of 16th and 17th century London where each district is synonymous with a particular trade. For instance, St Clement’s was associated with the nearby wharf where merchants landed citrus fruits – hence, oranges and lemons. Money lending is also at the heart of the rhyme – or, more pointedly, those who are indebted to others and are unable to pay (“When will you pay me say the bells of Old Bailey”). The rhyme ends with the chilling words: “And here comes a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a chopper to chop off your head”. The great tenor bell of St Sepulchre’s Church, near the Old Bailey, would toll at 9am on a Monday morning, signalling the start of any hangings due to take place that week.
I decided that I wanted to compose a piece about the little song which would incorporate the sounds of the bells of St Clement Danes, in London – but if I were to do so it would have to use an actual recording of the bells themselves, and this is exactly what you hear in the extract below.
The recording of the bells has been manipulated and transposed as desired and the bell sounds are interspersed with over-lapping chords which create poly-chordal harmonies. This over-lapping of chords and the resulting poly-chordal harmony has become an important feature of my newly acquired compositional style which is always still developing.
I hope you’ll enjoy the extract from “Lemons; St Clements”, below. If you’re on a laptop this music is best heard through either a good set of speakers or through headphones in order to really appreciate the intricacies of the sound: