Hortus Musicae Book 1 was commissioned by Ian Ritchie for the 2013 City of London Festival for Clare Hammond, who gave the first performance in St Mary-le-Bow at the festival that year. Both books are dedicated to Clare Hammond. Whereas Book 1 consists of five pieces, the second book contains seven, giving a total of twelve. Each piece of the cycle centres on a specific pitch and, overall, the twelve notes of the chromatic scale are thus revealed across the two books, the latter being achieved by means of a large-scale ascent of rising pitch centres outlining fifths.
As with Book 1, the second book addresses real, imaginary and metaphysical gardens as ‘special’ spaces with particular characteristics or psychological resonance. The Latin title has a particular sense, A Garden of Music implying the idea in the widest sense, whereas English or Hortus Musicum (a Musical Garden) might be construed more literally, which was not my intention.
The seven pieces in Book 2 are as follows:
1: The Flowers appear on the Earth. [Pitch centre F] The reference is to the Song of Solomon 2:12; the idea of the Spring and new growth/re-birth leads to:
2: Light on the Water Garden. [Pitch centre C] When light passes through another medium, it slows and ‘bends’/changes angle (refraction). In this piece, the pulse remains constant (as does the speed of light), the initial bright music of light being interrupted by apparently slower, quiet music. Each gradually changes, the piece ending with a final burst of light which harmonically suggest that the journey will continue, as it must.
3: The Garden of Changing Perspective. [Pitch centre G flat/F sharp] A melodic line is heard in changing perspective; not only is the line itself transposed, but it accumulates reflections of itself. After reaching a point of greatest harmonic density, the music subside, arriving at the tonic note which it has sought throughout.
4: Beech Bank (a la recherché)…[Pitch centre D flat] In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my sister and I spent Christmases and Summer vacations at our paternal grandparents’ house, Beech Bank, in Norwich. Our pianist grandmother played Chopin and our grandfather sang, usually opera excerpts; in addition, he played us records and the first one I recall was a 78rpm of Haydn’s String Quartet Op 76 No 1. The subtitle ‘a la recherche’ refers to Proust’s great novel A la recherche du temps perdu concerning love, loss and the nature of memory. In this piece, the continuous music represents a stream/veil of consciousness/ memory, while extracts of Haydn, Chopin and Donizetti appear as if floating through the window into Beech Bank garden.
5: Light in the hedge garden [Pitch centre A flat/G sharp] As light passes through an aperture, it is diffracted, the amount of diffraction depending on the size of aperture, the smallest, for example, causing the widest diffraction. The music reflects this with three elements: the first is that of the light, the second is the increasingly close-spaced interrupting chords and the third, the waves of diffraction, each wave being a re-harmonisation of the central pitch by means of various transpositions of the harmonic series. This movement mirrors the second piece.
6: The Garden at twilight (pitch centre E flat] A slowly descending harmonic succession achieved by reducing cluster chords to triads reflects the basic the basic idea and mirrors the third piece.
7: Hortus Animae Alis Fugacis [The Garden of the Swift-Winged Spirit] (pitch centre B flat) An imaginary garden of flights of the mind, cast as a fugue (fuga from the Latin fugere can be translated as either flee [fugere] or chase [fugare]). As the final piece of Book 2, this movement mirrors the dance which closes Book 1.
Hortus Musicae Book 2 was premiered by Clare Hammond at the 2016 Presteigne festival, with funds provided by the RVW Trust.
Robert Saxton, March 2016