• Param Vir
  • Flame (1997)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Munich Biennale

  • Cello
  • 12 min

Programme Note

This work is in two movements - a slow Introduction, serenade-like, leading to a fast main movement of collage-like characters. The serenade sets out a 14-bar 'friendship' theme (starting in the fourth bar) on a ground of G, which reappears kaleidoscopically at the end of the movement, with the 14 bars of the theme in rearranged order. Between these two statements is ensconced a continually developing cantabile line reminiscent of the Cor Anglais solo which features in my opera Broken Strings (Peacock Song) as well as in the slow movement of Horse Tooth White Rock, my subsequent orchestral work. The cantabile section is intended to be a reflection on dharma, the pathway of integrity and truth. Thus is this work, friendship is brought into direct relationship with dharma.

The faster movement is a composite of diverse rhythmic characters that course their wild and somewhat disjunct passage through three strophes, developing and extending material on each repetition. The emergent principle of developing-variation controls the improvisatory flow, though new material is also presented within each subsequent strophe. The resulting collage can be seen as a rich stream of consciousness produced by the continuing interaction between dharma and friendship. Dharma is reflected in the almost all-pervasive use of the octatonic scale c-c#-d#-e-f#-g-a-a# (in all its three possible transpositions) which symbolises for me the Eight-fold path, its symmetry further pointing to a transcendental quality of being. The goal of the movement, indeed of the work as a whole, is the appearance of the tetrachord E-A-B-E flat in various transposition/rotations which gradually peeps through the octatonic fabric. This telos emerges fully towards the end of the second strophe. In a broader sense then, the movement can also be seen as a type of sonata-deformation, with the third strophe having a recapitulatory function.

The title of the work is inspired by a passage in the writings of Kim Malthe-Bruun, a Danish Resistance martyr during World War II. In a final letter he wrote before being executed, Kim speaks of the 'flame' that he has perhaps started in the heart of his friend Hanne, a flame which must survive him. True friendship, when grounded in such integrity as he manifested at the end of his life, is just such a flame - its gift is an unending inspiration.

Param Vir