When I was asked by David Christophersen to write a new piano piece for a recital in St John’s Smith Square next year, his requirement – for a piece that would provide reflection and perhaps even meditation between the onslaught of two war-torn works from the mid-twentieth century – was quite a challenge. Soothing, lullaby-like piano pieces have been something of a vogue over the last fifteen years or so – their hypnotic and mild repetitions seem to answer a need – but I must confess that I have something of a horror of such pieces. I can’t help feeling that they don’t really answer that need properly. It’s easy to be reassuring if you haven’t engaged too deeply with the problem. What David was asking for was not that, but something that would actually respond to the vicissitudes of the other music in his programme, and of the terrible worldwide upheavals of which they might be felt to be a reflection.
It felt like a significant step forward when I came across a line in Walt Whitman’s great elegy written in response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed. The line was ‘the gentle, soft-born, measureless light’. A cynic might immediately respond that this line is perfectly amenable to inspiring the kind of insipid, hazy new-agey meanderings I’ve just said that I wanted to get away from – no doubt this is true. But that’s not how it struck me, and it gave me a different direction to explore – musical evocations of light, conjured through resonance, sonority, reverberation, the luminosity and brightness of clouds of sound.
Anyway, the piece is now written, and will receive its first performance by David in St John’s Smith Square on February 22nd.