The Cortège

Berlin 16.2.79
In many parts of The Cortège, the nine- note pattern out of which lines and harmonies are drawn, is used quite freely as a starting point. Ideas are allowed to develop and find their own shape. Sometimes the eventual forms have become far removed from the original model. However, Berlin is a piece that was put together with mathematical care. This produced a calm, abstract setting to Hesse’s "Böse Zeit", giving a restrained feeling of measured tension. All the notes in the melody are taken in sequence from the nine-note pattern:
chords

The theme is played first by Alan Sinclair on tuba, alone. For me this is a moment of profound fragility, expressed by a powerful instrument played with delicacy. Coming immediately after the bravado and sardonic humour of `“Démocratie", it represents a moment of reflection.

Phil then sings the German lyrics, in unison with the cello. The improvisation that follows, voice, cello, bassoon, alto clarinet and tuba is free, retaining the mood and the basic B tonality.

In the concluding trio, the alto clarinet takes the theme, and the lines played by cello and bassoon are, like the melody, taken from the nine-note pattern.

The lines are constructed within strict rules; each note must move to an adjacent note in the pattern; no two instruments may play the same note at the same time. This produces passages of wandering three- part harmony that resolve at the end of each measure of the poem into simple triads, mostly major chords - mirroring the search of the traveller in the cold winter night for rest, comfort and human warmth.

A theoretical approach to composition like this, I should add, is only a means to an end, like any technique of composition. It must sound right. If it doesn’t sound right, I bend the rules until it does.

"Berlin 16.2.79” was so called because on that date the Brass Band arrived for the first time to play in West Berlin, in deep snow and freezing temperatures. In the hotel, I was able to try out on the guitar the lines which I had been working out on the road, driving across East Germany.


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