Friday, 4 May 2012

David Lancaster on ‘Vertigo’

The Late Music Concert on May 5 will feature works by David Lancaster
My string quartet is in two parts, ‘Vertigo’ (which was composed for the Tippett Quartet which first performed it in March 2011) and ‘Velocity’ (composed for the Ligeti Quartet to premiere at late Music in May).

Vertigo took as its starting point a fragment of music which Bernard Herrmann composed for the Hitchcock film of the same name because the original commission had come from the ‘Partners in Suspense’ conference which explored the collaboration between Hitchcock and Herrmann.
The link to Herrmann’s music was a given but it was always my intention to create an original piece of music which was authentically my own and which could enjoy a life beyond the conference. It isn’t in any sense an arrangement of Herrmann’s score but it does represent a creative response to Herrmann’s (and Hitchcock’s) work on a number of different intertextual levels.

Subsequent to composing my piece I was very pleased to find the interview with Martin Scorsese in Sound and Vision regarding Vertigo: ‘Hitchcock’s film is all about obsession… it’s about circling back to the same moment again and again… and the music is also built around spirals and circles – fulfilment and despair… Herrmann really understood that Hitchcock wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession’.

So just as Hitchcock uses repetition of themes and events to represent Scottie’s growing obsession with Madeleine and his spiralling decline, my music is based on a strict cyclic structure in which the series of musical events stated at the outset (beginning with an aggressive gesture from viola) is repeated five times and on each cycle is subject to a different process of development or transformation – but still remains recognisable and therefore becomes increasingly obsessive.

The fifth cycle in particular draws upon Herrmann’s ‘obsession’ motif – a plaintive falling figure, based on the musical technique of suspension; highly appropriate since falling – physically and emotionally – is at the heart of the film – and it is also a theme which has recurred my work on several occasions – my choral piece from last year was called ‘Fallen’ for example; another was ‘Suspense’ for soprano saxophone.

The sixth cycle begins but the spell is immediately broken and the work ends as it began.

Velocity is a companion piece to Vertigo rather than a second movement; the two pieces can be programmed together but each is capable of standing alone. This quartet is more concerned with Hitchcock than Herrmann and it attempts to utilise several of the former’s cinematic techniques, broadly translated into musical terms. Extremes of slow and fast music are starkly juxtaposed; the title is not intended to indicate raw speed but rather to suggest that the quicker music is always present but beneath the surface, capable of interrupting at any time.

The aggressive motif from viola remains from the earlier Vertigo but here the structure is rather less formal; the musical gestures move in and out of our consciousness rather fleetingly, like half-forgotten memories, often on the threshold of silence.

For the regular Late Music listener: you may have heard the final bars of Velocity re-used in my song ‘Make Do and Mend’ which Jeremy Huw Williams sang in last month’s recital; given the subject matter of the song it seemed appropriate to construct it around on some pre-used material. Here in the quartet it represents a sort of apotheosis – almost a resolution – of all the slow music in the piece.

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