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LEADING A CHARRED LIFE
This setting of seven short poems is taken (by kind permission of George Szirtes) from his book of poems The Bad Machine, published by Bloodaxe Books, 2013 ISBN: 978 – 85224 – 957.
The body is the ‘bad machine’ and deaths of people close to the poet remind him how machines can easily malfunction; changes in the body prompt a change of direction – a moving on.
Likewise language is a body, and Szirtes (born in Hungary in 1948), here develops new themes which expand the possibilities of form, and skilfully questions further the use of language. He was the winner of the prestigious 2004 TS Eliot Prize.
The music, composed with an octatonic pitch collection (a scale construction using alternate tones and semitones) is essentially lyrical for the voice, and composed with tonal procedures.
The piano part is deliberately sparse, and largely linear. There are motivic cross references, especially in the final song, which recall the style of the first song.
The short three bar coda which concludes the first song acts as a musical ‘question-mark’ and is similarly employed for all seven songs.
- Running quavers and heavy punctuated chording underpin a melisimatic vocal line.The meno mosso section utilises the first six notes of the song in augmentation.
- This is constructed around a four-chord ostinato, with constantly changing inversions and rhythm.
- Scampering piano quavers in bare octaves recall Shostakovich in lighter vein; the vocal line is lyrical.
- Four piano ostinati, respectively using minor 3rds, perfect 4ths, major 3rds and semitones are used in unison – until the recurring coda phrase.
- This brings back the loud, punctuated chording from Song 1, this time mixed with running quavers as in Songs 1 and 3.
- This is more chordal, but with high register filigree piano writing.
- Recapping the vocal material of Song 1, the piano borrows from several of the preceding songs before it all ends deliberately inconclusively.