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As I was in Barcelona last June for the Sónar Festival, a friend showed me the catalogue of an exhibition titled ‘Hammershøi i Dreyer’ which was on show at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) earlier in the year. From what I saw in the catalogue, I wished I were there for the exhibition. Until then, I have not heard of Vilhelm Hammershøi, nor Carl Theodor Dreyer, not to mention the artistic links between the two.


After my return, I tried to track down Hammershøi’s paintings in London Galleries, only to discover that they are not currently on display – and there are not that many of them. Edward Hopper has always been one of my favourite painters – that indescribable sense of isolation and solitude is something I always find haunting. You look at some of Hopper’s late paintings – Sunlight in an Empty Room (1963) for example – your mind would wonder what goes on outside the picture, the things that are felt but not seen. I get the same feeling when I listen to Sciarrino’s music; I have heard Omaggio A Burri (1995) and Esplorazione del Bianco II (1986) in concert, and they were possibly the most intense listening experiences I have ever had – very unsettling.


Why is Hammershøi’s art so neglected outside Denmark – just as the way Nielsen’s music once was? I know Michael Palin made a documentary called The Mystery of Hammershøi in 2005 for the BBC, which I have not seen. I wonder how much it helped to make non-Danish speakers aware of this marvellous painter.


On a brighter note, most of Dreyer’s movies are now available on DVD; my copies of Ordet (1955) and Gertrud (1964) have just arrived. Something for the bank holiday weekend when I get a bit stuck with the composing.

Last Sunday morning, all the houses were covered with snow; during the week, there was plenty of sun. It felt like spring has come and gone, and back again, in the space of one week, even though it felt longer. Changes of weather are like music – they distort our sensation of natural time flow.

My first meeting with Colin Matthews happened three days ago. Other than getting some interesting tips on ‘What and What Not’, we had some interesting discussion on music by other composers – some dead, some alive – and it transpired to be a very helpful exercise. We both agreed Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony is an underrated masterpiece; I would go as far as saying all Nielsen’s symphonies are underrated masterpieces, as well as his three concerti, two operas, and other orchestral pieces. Nielsen and Sibelius should be on equal ground. How long will we have to wait to hear the next Nielsen Symphony Cycle in London? Well, at least something is happening across the Atlantic, according to Alex Ross.

The title of the my piece, Xocolatl, came to me when I was re-reading Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney. On the day I went to see Colin, I found the perfect little preface to the score:

In that November off Tehuantepec
Night stilled the slopping of the sea.
The day came, bowing and voluble, upon the deck,

Good clown … One thought of Chinese chocolate
And large umbrellas. And a motley green
Followed the drift of the obese machine

Of ocean, perfected in indolence.
What pistache one, ingenious and droll,
Beheld the sovereign clouds as jugglery

And the sea as turquoise-turbaned Sambo, neat
At tossing saucers – cloudy-conjuring sea?
C’était mon esprit bâtard, l’ignominie.

The sovereign clouds came clustering. The conch
Of loyal conjuration trumped. The wind
Of green blooms turning crisped the motley hue

To clearing opalescence. Then the sea
And heaven rolled as one and from the two
Came fresh transfigurings of freshest blue.

Sea Surface Full of Clouds, Wallace Stevens

There will be no Holloway; instead, just a little help from Mozart.

February 2020
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