With my PhD due date looming on the horizon, a little under 4 months away, I’ve decided to try to keep myself honest (and come up with a new way of procrastinating) by blogging about how I’m doing.
Buoyed by the lovely review of my Oxen of the Sun in this month’s Choir and Organ*, today I set about tackling the only movement of my large PhD piece (Amra Choluim Chille, henceforth known as ACC) that I had yet to start. It’s the 6th of 7 movements, and I had decided several months ago for this movement to be for upper voices, strings and harp only – no tenors or basses. This is because the text relates to the grief of the Uí Néill clan upon hearing of the death of St Columba. I have some vague idea in my head that traditionally, in Ireland, only the women were involved in keening over the dead body – often in chorus, lead by a professional bean chaointe.
While at the end of today I have only set the first 2 of 13 lines in this movement, I have planned more or less the whole structure, based on an octatonic ascending texture that I developed for my commission for New Dublin Voices entitled Comrades. In that piece it is quick, regular and energised, to convey the words “free through the world your spirit goes.” Here, however, it is going to be much slower to develop, and I will probably use aleatoric techniques, so that there is something more chaotic and mournful about how the texture builds, to give meaning to the words Is deimhin: ní och aon-tí, ní och aon-téite,/ Is trom an tuath anois i ngreim an scéil.**
I am bringing back a motif from the very beginning of the piece, which I think of as the “Cross” motif, because the way I’ve laid out the strings, it forms the image of a cross. Here, that motif is used on the words Mac na Croiche a ainm;***. For some reason, whenever I think about the beginning of the piece, the words “Hold thou the cross before my closing eyes” come into my mind – I have this image of the dying St Columba looking at the sky and seeing a shining cross formed out of light and clouds and rain and so on.
Don’t ask me why.
*“quite beautiful... is Eoghan Desmond’s extraordinary Oxen of the Sun, with its Joycean brio and deceptive subtlety.”
** Truly: not the grieving of one household, nor the sighing of one harp string, sad are all the people at the wounding word.
***Son of the Cross his name.