commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group under the Sound Investment scheme
Musicians Wrestle Everywhere (1994) is a concerto for ten instruments written as a continuous movement of thirteen minutes’ duration. Although much of my previous work has been based on exotic folk-song traditions of the world, I have often wondered if I could write down the street music of my own urban environment. To this end, I started taking note of sounds that caught my ear as I walked around at home. At first I undertook this exercise in a satirical spirit, thinking of the pastoral tradition in music, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Maxwell Davies. Where they heard trilling birds, rilling brooks and fragrant showers of rain, I heard wind turbulence from a nearby traffic intersection,, Nigerian pop music out of a tower block, and wind chimes in the back garden of a crumbling squat.
Probably nothing recognisable of such inspirations can be hear in the much-developed musical language of Musicians Wrestle Everywhere, but I feel personally affectionate towards this material which originates, however distantly, in the exotic landscapes of London SE17. While writing the piece, I discovered Emily Dickinson’ poem, which seems to suggest, in the very modern way of Cage and Feldman, that music is all around us if we only care to listen to it:
Musicians wrestle everywhere
All day among the crowded air
I hear the silver strife
And waking long before the morn
Such transport breaks upon the town
I think it that “New Life”!
It is not Bird it has no nest
Nor “Band” in brass and scarlet drest
Nor Tamborin nor Man
It is not Hymn from Pulpit read
The “Morning Stars” the Treble led
On Time ‘s first Afternoon!
Some say it is “the Spheres” at play!
Some say that bright Majority
of vanished Dames and men!
Some think it service in the place
Where we with late-celestial face
Please God shall Ascertain!
Musicians Wrestle Everywhere was written for the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and commissioned by a numerous group of its audience under the ‘Sound Investment’ scheme. It was first performed by BCMG, under the direction of Andrew Parrott, in Birmingham in 1995.
© Judith Weir