The Delight of Dawn
Composition Date: 2015
Duration: c. 1.20′
Instrumentation: Small orchestra
Socring: 220.127.116.11-2.2.2-perc(1):SD/tgl-harp/pft/strings (18.104.22.168.2)
The world I encounter in my (non-musical) working life is generally hard. I am consistently coming across (and trying to do something to address) terrible injustices, abuses, and immense personal suffering.
My work can be incredibly fulfilling and not without its own ‘ups’, but there have definitely been many times, over the years, when I would like to have retreated into a smaller, safer, tidier world: a world where I can pretend, at least for a time, that life is as it should be, where no one gets hurt, and where the simple pleasures of life are all just there, available to everyone, and free for the taking, in all their beauty and innocence.
Many composers write music that tries to express their horror, rage and anguish over the injustices they see in the world, and that is certainly a worthy and important approach to take. I have (and will continue to) do it myself.
But I think, to a large degree, I use writing music as a form of retreat. And I don’t mean escapism. Even when I am writing, I can never forget the things I have seen and heard. It’s more a way of renewing my hope and optimism about life. So when I write, I often try to imagine a different kind of world to the one I see at work — or at least to re-focus on those aspects of the world that are not (entirely) tainted with suffering and injustice.3
Looking back on what I was experiencing when I wrote this short piece, I was almost certainly in a space where I needed precisely this kind of retreat. This explains (to me, at any rate) why the music almost begs to be heard with a child-like innocence and delight. I say ‘almost’ because there is a hint of darkness in there too, especially at the end of the piece — clearly a result of my inability to forget the harsh realities of this world, even if I am doing my best to keep them at a distance.
Some time after I had finished the piece, I stumbled across Franco Fortini’s poem “Ah letizia . . .” (translated by Geoffrey Brock). The poem was the first of seven ‘songs’ in Fortini’s poem “Sette canzonette del Golfo” (1994), which was written in response to the first Gulf War.1
As I read the translation, it seemed to me that Fortini was trying to capture a very similar response to the horrors he witnessed around him. I saw in my mind’s eye the innocent delight of an early Sunday morning in peaceful garden: a spider’s web of silk gently swaying in the wind, ants marching in a row, the sun slowly lighting up a wall, lizards emerging to bask in its warmth. And yet, there were the sound of sirens in the distance, disturbing hints that all was not well, that a terrible tragedy, even if far removed, threatened to overshadow the joy, the ‘tidy peace’ of the present moment.
Given the similarity, I decided to draw from the first line of the poem for my title (‘the delight of dawn’), and have included the poem in both the score and these notes (with the kind permission of Geoffrey Brock).
My hope is that reading the poem alongside the music can provide listeners with another way of understanding or connecting with the imagery and the emotional world of the music.
Ah the Delight . . .
Ah the delight of dawn!
Over the grassy lawn
the spark of silk, of silk
spat out by some small spider
to be the breeze’s pawn.
A distant siren whines
from the freeway. Sun shines!
What a Sunday, what peace!
An old man’s tidy peace,
his favorite hour of all.
The ants march on in rows.
They’re off to do who knows
what harm to the ripe pears . . .
Such sun now on the wall!
The lizards heed its call. 2
1 The second ‘song’, entitled “Far Away, Far Away”, offers a sense of how the poem develops. “Sette canzonette del Golfo” was first published in Fortini’s final volume, Composita solvantur (1994).
2 Translated by Geoffrey Brock, Poetry, Vol. 191, No. 3 (Dec., 2007), p. 216.
3 Cf. “What occurs in Mozart is a rather glorious upsetting of the balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall, though without disappearing, in which joy overtakes sorrow without extinguishing it, in which the Yea rings louder than the ever-present Nay.” Barth, K. (1956). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock: p. 55.