for narrator, clarinet and digitally enhanced piano
In 1924 D.H. Lawrence wrote in a letter: “I want to go south, where there is no autumn, where the cold doesn’t crouch over one like a snow leopard waiting to pounce.” His time in Italy fostered a rich collection of poems that embrace the sensuality of nature and the vitality of a sun that he followed in his travels in southern Italy. And behind his wildly observant poetic images, he illuminates the complexity of human relationships with the intensity of that mediterranean sun. In Where There is No Autumn, William Neil has created a musical setting of “Southern Night”, “Pomegranate” “Peach” and “Tropic” scored for narrator, clarinet, piano and digital acoustics. Neil transforms Lawrence’s in the moment, first person narratives into a rich spectrum of sonorities that orchestrate the spoken word with the full dynamic capabilities of the clarinet and piano. The ensemble is enveloped in the digital sounds that are heard through speakers on stage. The acoustic sounds are cued from the composer’s laptop and are really compositions in them selves inspired by the images that Lawrence evokes in his poems. Neil has composed and recorded music that he created on the Kawai grand piano in his studio that were then sculpted and processed to create the desired sonic elements that make the complete mosaic of the live performance. Neil worked closely with the narrator John Worthen and Bethan Jones, the clarinetist during the composition to create pieces that can be easily rehearsed and performed during their residency at the D.H. Lawrence International Symposium in Gargnano, Italy on September. “Southern Night” opens with a very ritualistic treatment of the text, the digital part developing a tension that explode into the brilliant clarinet and piano gestures. In “Pomegranate” each of the references to location, Syracuse, Venice and Tuscany in the poems are as treated as separate musical events. The poem ends with Lawrence’s challenge to the reader to fully appreciate the sensuous experience of breaking open the fruit and enjoying its colourful splendour. Here, Neil combines all three of the previous acoustic settings in a cascade of piano and clarinet trills that ends in a slow, contemplative, harmonic constellation that resolve when the clarinet reaches its final note. “Peach” enlivens the tension that Lawrence creates in his question and answer formant of the poem with the very dynamic and dramatic digital part with the piano and and clarinet resonating each of the questions. In the final piece, “Tropic”, Neil combines three manifestations of a rhythm that correspond to the Lawrence’s reference to the ” horizontal rolling of water” with two rising themes in the clarinet that evoke the “the flood of black heat”.
Audio from the premiere
Excerpt from score:
Four poems by D.H. Lawrence
Come up, thou red thing.
Come up, and be called a moon.
The mosquitoes are biting tonight
Memories, northern memories,
Bitter-stinging white world that bore us
Subsiding into this night.
Call it moonrise
This red anathema?
Rise, thou red thing!
Unfold slowly upwards, blood-dark;
Burst the night’s membrane of tranquil stars
The red Macula.
You tell me I am wrong.
Who are you, who is anybody to tell me I am wrong?
I am not wrong.
In Syracuse, rock left bare by the viciousness of Greek women,
No doubt you have forgotten the pomegranate trees in flower,
Oh so red, and such a lot of them.
Whereas at Venice
Abhorrent, green, slippery city
Whose Doges were old, and had ancient eyes,
In the dense foliage of the inner garden
Pomegranates like bright green stone,
And barbed, barbed with a crown.
Oh, crown of spiked green metal
Now, in Tuscany,
Pomegranates to warm your hands at;
And crowns, kingly, generous, tilting crowns
Over the left eyebrow.
And, if you dare, the fissure!
Do you mean to tell me you will see no fissure?
Do you prefer to look on the plain side?
For all that, the setting suns are open.
The end cracks open with the beginning:
Rosy, tender, glittering within the fissure.
Do you mean to tell me there should be no fissure?
No glittering, compact drops of dawn?
Do you mean it is wrong, the gold-filmed skin, integument, shown ruptured?
For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken.
It is so lovely, dawn-kaleidoscopic within the crack.
Would you like to throw a stone at me?
Here, take all that’s left of my peach.
Heaven knows how it came to pass.
Somebody’s pound of flesh rendered up.
Wrinkled with secrets
And hard with the intention to keep them.
Why, from silvery peach-bloom,
From that shallow-silvery wine-glass on a short stem
This rolling, dropping, heavy globule?
I am thinking, of course, of the peach before I ate it.
Why so velvety, why so voluptuous heavy?
Why hanging with such inordinate weight?
Why so indented?
Why the groove?
Why the lovely, bivalve roundnesses?
Why the ripple down the sphere?
Why the suggestion of incision?
Why was not my peach round and finished like a billiard ball?
It would have been if man had made it.
Though I’ve eaten it now.
But it wasn’t round and finished like a billiard ball;
And because I say so, you would like to throw something at me.
Here, you can have my peach stone.
Sun, dark sun,
Sun of black void heat, Sun of the torrid mid-day’s horrific darkness:
Behold my hair twisting and going black.
Behold my eyes turn tawny yellow
See the milk of northern spume
Coagulating and going black in my veins
Aromatic as frankincense.
Columns dark and soft
Soft shafts, sunbreathing mouths
Eyes of yellow, golden sand
As frictional as perilous, explosive brimstone.
Rock, waves of dark heat;
Waves of dark heat, rock, sway upwards
What is the horizontal rolling of water
Compared to the flood of black heat that rolls upward past my eyes.