• Peter Dickinson
  • Stevie's Tunes (1984)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • Mezzo Sopranopf
  • 13 min

Programme Note

Prelude - Trance - Confrontations - Epilogue

"The instinctive and progressive interest of every man in art…will go on and on…until the day will come when every man while digging his own potatoes will breathe his own epics; and as he sits of an evening in his backyard…watching his brave children in their fun of building their themes for their sonatas of their life, he will hear the transcendental strains of the day's symphony resounding in their many choirs…"
Postface to 114 Songs by Charles Ives

In the sense of that quotation, Sonatas for Piano is about memories both recent and distant. It requires two channels of tape playback made by the pianist beforehand. In the Prelude alternating legato and staccato textures are closely echoed in both tapes, leading directly to the longest section called Trance. Self-contained pieces of music filter in through the speakers - first a low sustained Dirge, then - high up - a quasi-Mozart piece which was part of an actual dream I had in 1979. These are followed by a blues transformation of the Dirge, over a staccato bass, and a transcription of the Dream piece in the style of the British novelty pianist and composer Billy Mayerl. These different layers are superimposed in various patterns to reach a climax in the third section, Confrontations. The tapes now take over the decoration which the live piano had developed during the Trance section high up at the top of the keyboard. The live player comes to terms with these memories, at first violently and gradually softer. Finally, in the slow Epilogue, the tapes have disappeared and the Dirge and the Dream are superimposed live.

© Peter Dickinson

"I am still haunted by the first performance missed-shot tunes I seem to hear and cannot always reproduce…What I shall do is to get [the tunes] so into my mind that some time a poem will fit itself to them, that is the way it does happen."

Stevie's Tunes is based on the melodies she specified or clearly implied, where the verse fits exactly. The opening refrain, "O, circle of Trismegistus, oh where is your circumference?"" and the incident surrounding it come form "Over the Frontier" (1938). Hermes Trismegistus (Latin Hermes ter-maximus = thrice greatest) was the name given by the Neo-Platonists and devotees of mysticism and alchemy to the Egyptian God Thoth, more or less identified with the Grecian Hermes. The Trismegistus refrain is the only melody not suggested by Stevie, but its use deliberately follows her parasitic technique - and Stevie's Tunes has other connections with Tchaikovsky too.

1. HEBER: I love little Herber (Tune: 'I love little pussy')
2. TO THE TUNE OF THE COVENTRY CAROL: The nearly right (Tune: Coventry Carol)
3. O HAPPY DOGS OF ENGLAND: O Happy dogs (Tune: O Happy Band of Pilgrims)
4. IN CANAAN'S HAPPY LAND: Fair waved the golden corn (Tune: Fair waved the golden corn)
5. THE HEAVENLY CITY: I sigh for the heavenly country (Tune: Jerusalem the Golden)
6. '…AND THE CLOUDS RETURN AFTER THE RAIN': In a shower of tears (Tune: Come, let us join our cheerful songs)
7. THE DEVIL-MY-WIFE: The nervous face of my dear wife (Tune: Golden Slumbers)
8. LE SINGE QUI SWING: Outside the house (Tune: Greensleeves)
9. UNSER VATER: Unser Vater (Tune: The Londonderry Air)

© Peter Dickinson