The Philosophy of Composition (in Memory of Don Maclennan) (2009)
for cello and piano
PremièreFirst performance: Sunday 31 May 2009; South Africa; Berthine van Schoor cello, Albie van Schalkwyk piano — performance details.
I have always been fascinated by compositional process and therefore constantly excited about the path that my material will take; form, style and so on interest me less. Since I habitually start with beginnings, which may or may not remain beginnings, I opted to start this piece by composing the end. Secretly I really wanted to follow Edgar Allan Poe's process for writing his classic poem 'The Raven', which he sets out in his 1846 essay 'The Philosophy of Composition'.
So ending with a one-minute cello-and-piano piece that I wrote for a Messiaen centenary concert last year, I wanted to find a way back from or a way to approach that material. As it happens I ended up working backwards from, or towards, something completely different, but in the event the process seemed to concentrate my thinking even more than usual. This led Aryan Kaganof to comment that "every note in the work seems to lead inexorably towards the sequence of notes that begins around the 8 minute mark -- this beginning of the end is reached without superfluity, without a single note that could be described as inessential".
Halfway through writing the piece, when I was making slow progress, I received the sad news that a good friend, poet Don Maclennan, had died. I was suddenly quite focussed and finished the piece within days. 'The Philosophy of Composition (in memory of Don Maclennan)' was written for Berthine van Schoor and Albie van Schalkwyk, and was not commissioned by SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts. It lasts about 9 minutes.
Perhaps fittingly, in terms of the literary material upon which the composition is inspired (Edgar Allan Poe’s 1846 essay The Philosophy of Composition), every note in the work seems to lead inexorably towards the sequence of notes that begins around the 8 minute mark — this beginning of the end is reached without superfluity, without a single note that could be described as inessential.
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