Composed: Durham, November-December 1987
Revised: Charterhouse, October 1989
Performed: i) Durham Music Society Concert:
flute: Caroline Stockman
piano: Clive Broadbent
ii) (Revised version)
SPNM Concert, Lauderdale House, Highgate, London
flute: Marian Erhardt
piano: Michael Dussek
Through the Sharp Hawthorn was written following a suggestion by Dr John Casken for a piece for the excellent flautist Caroline Stockman, then present in Durham.
The full title is a line from King Lear - Lear's wits have just 'been turned' and he is talking on the heath to 'Poor Tom' , the 'mad' version of Edgar, who has been forced to flee from his father who believes him guilty of treachery. Rather than leaving the country, and therefore his misguided father to the actual treachery of his 'bastard' half-brother, Edmund, he chooses to dress in rags and act as a madman.
This title was considered appropriate for a number of reasons: the storm scene of the play during which the line occurs is one of the bleakest in all Shakespeare, and I consider this piece to be one of the most bleak in mood I have written; the scene represents a 'turning point' in the drama: this piece represents a turning point in my composing, (or at least it felt so at the time); the imagery was appropriate: the cold wind representing the flute, the sharp hawthorn, the piano; finally, the inverted nature of the line, (a more common, more modern version might be 'the cold wind blows through the sharp hawthorn'), represents at least one of the compositional features of the work.
As with a number of pieces in this portfolio, the original structure has become much elaborated in the process of composition. Very broadly, there are two sections, the second mirroring the first. Generally, the second section is an expanded version of the first, with the material being 'inverted'; i.e. the flute ideas of the first section are imitated by the piano in the second, and vice versa. The first section is itself divided into sections. Overall, the first section represents an 'exposition', and the second a combined development and recapitulation.
Two terms find themselves repeated throughout this analysis: verse and chorus. On a number of different levels, they represent the two basic materials used in the piece. The first is represented by the first six 'melodic' notes of the theme, the second by the final sustained note. In general, verse material is melodic and moving and chorus material is sustained, static, repetitive or contemplative in nature. Of course, as the materials become more and more interconnected these distinctions become increasingly blurred.
These terms are most obviously associated in twentieth-century British music with Harrison Birtwistle, and indeed, it was a (brief) study of his Verses for clarinet and piano that provided some of the initial impetus for the piece. What I found most appealing about the Birtwistle was not its sound, or its 'intellectual' shape, but the way in which the music was organised and constructed. In his analysis of the piece Michael Hall shows to a limited extent how material is generated from a repeated clarinet note and a delicate piano figure by moving first backwards and then forwards through the material in a succession of verses. During each verse new material is generated by this process, so the music proliferates. The piece is highly restrained in expression throughout.
My interest in this process is related to interests in similar processes in mathematics, where a function, ostensibly purely logical and defined, can be used in a sequential manner to produce series or sets of numbers which, as a whole, can display a highly varied content. So, in the sequence
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10...
the structure is both logical and visible. The series
1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34...
(the Fibonacci sequence) is equally logical but less obvious 'visibly', while
1 21 29 15 35 3874 5 863...
is obvious neither logically nor visibly.
In all of these cases, only the basic logical and mathematical processes are used, at first simply (x+1), and then in a more complex manner. The only real difference between each example is the ease of finding out how the results came about: the latter being rather like a question in a puzzle book. In each case, it is the most basic of units (whole numbers) that make up the 'set' of all material used. Each stage of the process can be seen as a different level, each of which works on its own, but which can also be seen as a combination of processes, again, each working on their own. Complex and multi-level structures can be constructed in this way, using basic and simple processes on a number of different levels.
There are a number of other compositional devices used in Through the Sharp Hawthorn, many of which are fairly simple versions of the transformations explored in the Sextet. More than any other piece, however, this one depended on what had gone on before in an organic and intuitive way. Of far more interest here is the basic structural detail, the symmetry of which I had not used in a piece until this one.
Below is a basic structural analysis of Through the Sharp Hawthorn. Refer to the Graphic Analysis for a proportional view.
* * * * * *
Section 1 Section 2 (reflection)
bar: instr: material: bar: instr:
Introduction (Chorus)Introduction (R)
VERSE 1 VERSE 1R
1-6flute main theme (ex 1:12) 142 pfte
(six notes + sustained (coda))
6pfte idea (ex 4:1) (cadential) 146 flute
7pfte idea (ex 4:2) (link) 149 fl+pfte
CHORUS 1 CHORUS 1R
8-12fl+pfte 150-157 pfte+fl
six single repeated notes with 'decorative' accompanying ideas(material inverted)
VERSE 2 VERSE 2R
13-17fl+pfte variants of main theme 158-168 pfte+fl
(Codetta:) variants with... (material inverted)
18flute idea (link) (ex 4:3) 169 pfte
(expanded with echo)
CHORUS 2 CHORUS 2R
19-26flute (solo) (ex 4:9) 171-178
27-28(six flute notes - 5/16) 179-210 (six notes expanded:)
VERSE 1 - 179-183
CHORUS 1 - 184
VERSE 2 - 185-190
CHORUS 2 - 191-193
VERSE & CHORUS 3 - 196-198
VERSE & CHORUS 4 - 201- 208
29(expanded version of above) 179-210
32-43(= 13-16) 211-234
Allegro (Verse) Verse (R)
VERSE & CHORUS 1235-258
44-48Varied Recap of opposite
VERSE & CHORUS 2
VERSE & CHORUS 3
62-63 (= 18-19)
66-69 (= 20-21)
72-75 (= 22-26)
VERSE & CHORUS 4
82-86 (= 29)
86-88 (= 30)
VERSE & CHORUS 5
VERSE & CHORUS 6259-273
(119-meno mosso con licenza)
(119-124 = 8-12)
Interlude Interlude (R)
VERSE 1 - 301-306
CHORUS 1 - 307-311
VERSE 2 - 312-314
CHORUS 2 - 315
VERSE & CHORUS 3 - 318-320
VERSE & CHORUS 4 - 322-324
VERSE 5 - 326-327
CHORUS 5 - 328-330
VERSE & CHORUS 6 - 332-335
Coda-coda - 336+
* * * * *
A good example of each of these methods can be explained by analysing and comparing the first couple of pages of each of the first and second sections.ex 1:14 are the details of a 'little system', used to move the texture from a long flowing line to a sparse staccato one, more appropriate to the 'allegro' (more appropriately piu giusto) that starts at figure 4 (bar 44). This move from a relaxed, fluid movement to a highly rhythmic one by figure 8, is a crucial force behind this passage. It is one of the first successful examples of the development of 'momentum' that has been mentioned above. In this case, in the terms of the 'one-movement form', this whole section to figure 9 could be described as A: a combination of both exposition and development, using momentum as a prime motivating force.
Ex 4:8-4:16show the similar recurring development of the 'chorus' elements through this section. There is no single theme as with the verse, but a basic idea, (the repeated note), each with a particular dynamic shape, (see ex 4:4 & 4:12), with various 'links' and other decorations. As can be seen the whole process is, at least in result, highly intuitive, with growing references to the verse theme as the passage progresses. In fact, both verse and chorus each tend towards the same rhythmically charged climax at figure 9.
Following this climax is a codetta and an interlude-like passage. This has a similar, although less important, function as the 'cloud' interlude in the Sextet. As there, this passage represents a 'pause' in the action, an area that is 'outside' the main drama. Here, the passage is shorter and has less significance in structural terms than the Sextet's 'clouds'. However, I felt and feel that this passage (and its reflection towards the end of the piece are successful and appropriate, not least because of the place they could be seen to represent in the drama of King Lear. The music is not programmatic, but as was mentioned above, the structure of the play had some significance; at some point in the piece, (just after the storm and just before Lear points out that "Through the Sharp Hawthorn Blows the Cold Wind"), Lear's wits "begin to turn", and following this, the whole power base of the country in inverted. This passage seems to me to be a very appropriate musical metaphor for 'turned wits'.
Fromfigure 11, the material is indeed, 'inverted', instrumentally. As both the verbal and graphic analyses above show, until bar 179, all the material for the flute is 're-interpreted' by the piano and vice versa.
4.3 Meta-Global Elements
It was pointed out when discussing Scena above that the work with contours in the Sextet had had an influence on the keening melodies used in the former piece, and a similarity was noted between contours of various of its melodies and the 'verse melody' of Through the Sharp Hawthorn. As will be seen, this melody,(ex 1:12) , in both melodic and harmonic forms plays a part in a sort of development that can be traced through many of the earlier pieces in the portfolio (ex 1:1-1:22)
As has been mentioned above, the basic impulse for the piece, and some of the terminology used above may have been supplied by a brief study of Birtwistle's Verses for clarinet and piano, but although I think I initially meant the piece to be quite similar, it its final form it is substantially different in intention, mood and sound. Apart from a few elements of Messiaen in some of the piano writing, I can see few other direct musical influences.
In it's original version, the piece quite distinctly lost it's momentum at the recapitulation, (one-movement form:A'), at figure 17. This was because there was no sufficiently climactic passage at this point to balance the climax at figure 9. Since then, the whole passage to figure 20 was replaced in order to help compensate, but it is still not satisfactory. Basically, the piece is fundamentally unbalanced, and although I think parts of the music until figure 17 is excellent, the piece is flawed because of what follows.
4.6 The Recording
Through the Sharp Hawthornhas received two concert performances, one of each of the original and revised versions. The details of each are noted above. In spite the professional status of the second performance, the quality of the first was so superior it has been included rather than the second. As this is the original version, it differs quite substantially from the submitted score between figures 17 & 20.