• Michael Blake Watkins
  • Magic Shadow-Show (1980)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by Sevenoaks Summer Festival with funds from the South East Arts Association

  • 11001000pfstr(1.0.0.1.1)
  • cello
  • 20 min

Programme Note

Michael Blake Watkins: The Magic Shadow-show
for solo cello and ensemble

The idea for The Magic Shadow-show came from reading two quatrains from Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, the eleventh century Persian astronomer, mathematician and poet-philosopher:

‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

For in and out, above, about below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

In the original, the poet speaks of a ‘Fanusi khiyal’, a magic lantern, which is still used in India today. Its cylindrical interior is painted with various figures and is so lightly poised and ventilated that it revolves around a lighted candle within. For Khayyam, this symbolised the predicament of human life, and this image is projected in The Magic Shadow-show.

The solo cello depicts the prevailing force which exerts its influence over the other players. It singles out, plays with and finally discards each instrumentalist before returning him to the ensemble.

The piece is in one continuous movement containing a Prelude and Postlude for cello alone, seven duos, two Entr’actes (one for flute, oboe, horn, piano and cello, the other for all the strings), and three ensembles for all the players. The solo cello plays throughout.

This work was commissioned by the Sevenoaks Summer Festival 1980 with funds provided by the South East Arts Association.


© Michael Blake Watkins