Suite for Orchestra, “Figures in a Landscape”

Cover: Jim Aitchison Correspondence Fields, oil pastel and graphite on paper, 2021

I finished the novel Figures in a Landscape by Barry England back in 2021 and was captivated throughout. In the story, two men escape from war-time imprisonment and flee across a spare landscape pursued by their previous captors. The younger of the two is the more innocent Ansell, and the older is the callused fighter MacConnachie. The novel, from 1968, has no specifics about who the antagonists were or where the action occurs.

England’s book was a pure and existentialist response to sentiments the late 60s regarding war and the value we put on life, ours and others, and how proximity affects that value. What he wrote transcends the specificity of the events contained; the detailed and exposed psychology of the duo in flight contrasts the ambiguous landscapes. I think of it, imprecisely, as a more “human” companion to Waiting for Godot. Bleak humanism?

I read the book several times and annotated the events and days (approximately 11) when those events occurred, converting what I felt were key moments into specific movements. They are:

  1. march
  2. village I
  3. helicopter I
  4. crawl I
  5. fire
  6. boat
  7. mountain I
  8. village II
  9. mountain II
  10. rain
  11. fissure
  12. crawl II
  13. helicopter II
  14. “we’d never have got”

The movements are generally grouped in threes, with #13 and #14 standalone.

(written from 16 May 2022 to 3 Feb 2024)

Suite for Orchestra, “Figures in a Landscape”–Coda

Slowness has occurred the last few months. Passive voice. I know the cause is that I’ve focused on learning Italian, but a few years ago when I was on a death march at work, every night I still took at least 30 minutes to work on my Symphony No. 1. Those days haunt me for their dedication under stress.

There’s no excuse.

Maybe I need to drink less?
Continue reading Suite for Orchestra, “Figures in a Landscape”–Coda

Suite for Orchestra, “Figures in a Landscape”–Documenting themes and structure

Updated 21 Apr 2023

A couple of years back I purchased the score for Finnissy’s piano collection English Country-Tunes, a beautiful score and equally arresting music. The first time I listened to it it deeply terrified me. Following that, and following along with the New Complexity composers, I purchased Ferneyhough’s Lemma-Icon-Epigram. Another stunning piano work. (And one, equally, I’d never be able to play.) Since then I’ve purchase a couple of other beautiful modern scores.

Brian Ferneyhough’s La terre est un homme (1976-1979), Lemma-Icon-Epigram (1981), Sylvano Bussotti’s Pour clavier (1961), and Michael Finnissy’s English Country-Tunes (1977)
Continue reading Suite for Orchestra, “Figures in a Landscape”–Documenting themes and structure

Suite for Orchestra, “Figures in a Landscape”–Working with limited resources

I’ve just started the 5th movement, Fire, in which our heroes are trapped in a conflagration in the field of local villagers. (In my research notes, I have it covering pages 94-115 of the 2020 Penguin/Vintage edition I use as reference.) At this point I am struggling with the idea of program music in contrast with soundtracks. A few months back I had an abbreviated, stumbling Twitter conversation with an individual Much Better Informed but we ended up having the same opinions of soundtracks-as-pure-music. That is: a low one. In these days of a renaissance of quality composers, it’s admittedly a bit unpopular to get all academically scoffy about music written for movies.

5th movement, Fire
Continue reading Suite for Orchestra, “Figures in a Landscape”–Working with limited resources