1. duendecitos (1988)
2. figurine (1991)
3. a shapeless flame (1992)
4. some distant chimes (1992)
5. the thing that makes ashes (1993)
I began 'a book of colours' in 1988 when asked by the BBC to write a brief piece to commemorate the 80th birthday of Sir William Glock. As a result, I wrote 'duendecitos' which translates loosely as hobgoblins and takes its impetus from an etching of the same name in the “Los caprichos” set of etchings by Goya, which depicts lecherous and drunken dwarf-like monks, one with a grotesquely large left hand (a requirement essential, incidentally, in the performance of this piece and most of my piano music). Having written this for Ian Brown to play, I decided to add more short pieces and make a set.
'figurine' came next for Stephen Pruslin and was premiered by him at Aldeburgh. It is a simple atmospheric piece of two and a half minutes duration.
Stephen Gutman asked for the next two. He played them at Huddersfield and they are much more substantial than I and II. 'a shapeless flame', dedicated to the artist Gareth Davies, is wild and mercurial, the title of which stems from a poem by John Donne: Aire and Angels, and 'some distant chimes', a dark and sonorous procession of tolling, haunted bells.
'the thing that makes ashes', written for Rolf Hind, is the fifth and final piece in a book of colours. There is an African tribe who, terrified of using the word “fire” in case it summons the devil, use phrases such as “the old man that crackles” or “the thing that makes ashes.” The piece is approximately seven minutes in duration and is an attempt at a kind of amalgamation/summation of the previous four pieces. It is a mixture of “violence and grace”, to use Debussy’s phrase, whereas the previous pieces are either one or the other.
© Simon Holt