On a Somber September First . . .

In view of the warclouds over all our heads, there will not be quite the usual round-⁠up this Sunday so much as a pause to consider three pieces of sober apposite music.

From Two Silhouettes in London, a collaboration between Sam Holloway and Francesca Allen, comes an art-⁠song featuring lyrics and vocals by Ollie Godwin, entitled “Look Up,” one imbued by a palpable desperation that can be rendered in words at best poorly, though a sense of the feeling of the piece may perhaps be given by simply recounting a few of the sonic elements to be heard throughout – or rather, through the thicknesses of so distraught an atmosphere.

Here birds crow in the beginning and again at the end, while between these two choruses, bursts of dissonant percussion are interjected, early on doubled by what sounds like a delayed echo or else the clangour of combat on the horizon, as though a scene of violence were advancing towards the audience, then arrived in the acoustic foreground and holding by their very insistence the rest of the arrangements off kilter, finally returning back towards the distance whence they came: but not before something like a shriek – or another kind of furious or otherwise half-⁠insane noise – is emitted. And so this is a song that, within the brief interval which is usually all one can bear to allot to attend to such a thing, addresses us imploringly, albeit without any great confidence that the call will be heeded.

Today’s second incursion of sonic darkness is a piece for piano from the Utrecht composer, musician, and ambient sound artist Danny van Straten, who records under the moniker Gedrocht; not by chance has the composition been entitled “Alone Again,” as indeed it is back into the environs of solitude that each of us may separately be thrust by turns of events such as those one now is witnessing: and Straten does not fail to meet the expectations awakened by the title, as his nimble piano work transpires as though it were being performed in a narrow cone of light on a podium in a theatre otherwise without illumination. In this hall, of an audience there is neither a sign nor even a need, as his piece in its isolate condition can introduce each listener singly to the ravishments of despair, and instruct them likewise in the art of dancing by oneself.

The last of the three is a composition in places so subtle that one must strain to hear the music – the middle portion of a work in three parts by a young composer and harpsichordist studying at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music by the name of Peter Kramer. To it, in an allusion to a memorable line in one of Hölderlin’s poems, he has given the title “Silence of the World of Shades (Five Baroque Flutes),” and this too represents a deliberate choice, as here the flutes in their very evanescence sound as though they were disembodied voices, uttering upon their arrival in some afterlife perhaps the last notes they will ever sing, just before a rumbling underfoot announces the entrance of that host of denizens who are to welcome these newcomers to the nether regions. (Or, in the absence of Kramer’s full work – it is to be hoped that the entire composition will be provided at some point – at least this is what I intuit its scenography as comprising.)

For his part, in the final verse of the tripartite strophe-⁠staging taken from Pindar by Hölderlin in “An die Parzen,” from which Kramer’s title is drawn, he seems to say that once perfection has been heard from in the completion of a poem, the rest will be immaterial.

Willkommen dann, o Stille der Schattenwelt!

Zufrieden bin ich, wenn auch mein Saitenspiel

Mich nicht hinabgeleitet; Einmal

Lebt’ ich, wie Götter, und mehr bedarfs nicht.