Gentle Violence


I often report about long-ago compositions of mine which have suddenly seen the light, after years in a drawer. I guess it's an occupational hazard of writing music over many decades. But news from RAM guitarist Declan Hickey and flautist Lloyd Hampton seemed to be at a deeper stage of rediscovery; archaeology perhaps. Declan and Lloyd were about to perform my piccolo-guitar suite Gentle Violence. We looked up the title page, and learned that I wrote this music in early 1987, which must have been just after the completion of my first opera A Night at the Chinese Opera. I could well remember the two characterful musicians who gave the first performances (Gerald Garcia and Clive Conway, both still busy in their different ways) and I could remember a few early performances, firstly at Wigmore Hall, and then under the banner of Inter Artes, a company run by the resourceful UK-Hong Kong composer Ho Wai-On. Those memories took me up to roughly 1990, but thereafter I was sure I hadn't heard the piece since. It was published by Novello, but remains in manuscript (pictured) - the Letraset titles are a telling period feature. I don't think there was ever any kind of recording


I was of course agog to hear how Declan and Lloyd were getting on, and how the music would strike me after three decades of not hearing it. It is a set of seven short character pieces based on Tai Chi titles. Everyone knows about Tai Chi nowadays, but in those days it was a rather niche activity for Western people, and I had to turn to a rather fearsome tome, Primordial Pugilism by Tseng Ju-Pai, for documentation. I dug the book out this week, and was again diverted by its many photos of two young HK guys setting about each other in a tasteful way. But the music? Firstly, it was played with great ease by these poised student performers - I recalled more difficulty in the old days, as there always is when a tricky new work is first learned. And, I think thanks to the brevity of each piece, I enjoyed it more than I had expected. I note that when very old pieces of mine are unearthed and I dislike the music, the fault usually lies in the timing - either too stretched out or (more occasionally) the exact opposite. But thanks to this positive experience, I'm putting Gentle Violence back on my "performances welcome" list.





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JUDITH WEIR

Composer