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Gazelle

September 8, 2013

For a couple of years I’ve been wanting to write a piece for the harpist Michelle Abbott, who works in Hong Kong and also in the US.  Finally this summer a good moment emerged, and with it a quiet theme, gently circling, or rather spiralling.  This theme is the core of the piece: it has a life of its own, continually ticking over, watching, weighing up.  Mostly it is cool, elegant, but occasionally it shows strength and speed.

GRANT'S GAZELLE maleIt was fairly soon after drafting out this main theme that I got the idea for the title.  A gazelle is elegant, poised, attentive, beautiful, a little mysterious.  In Arabic literature it is associated with the beloved, and there is a genre of Sufi love-poetry whose name ghazal probably comes from the same root.

The harp is a special instrument, and an intriguing challenge for pianist-composers because its music looks on the page like piano music, and to some extent feels like it too, but this is a trap.  Finding those shapes and gestures which really speak in the tones and resonances of the harp requires as a crucial first step forgetting all about the piano.  There are also technical issues to do with the pedals and the tuning of the strings which require thought, but actually they’re easy enough to master.  What has been fascinating has been to try to discover the harp’s mother tongue, or rather, imagine it.  It has felt a little bit like trying to imagine the thoughts and sensations of a gazelle.

Image:  NHPA/Photoshot

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