• Jonathan Dove
  • Hojoki (2006)
    (An Account of My Hut)

  • Peters Edition Limited (World)

Dramatic Cantata for Countertenor and Orchestra. Text adapted from Kamo no Chomei in the translation by Donald Keene. Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and Casa da Música, Porto. First performed in the Barbican Hall by Lawrence Zazzo (countertenor) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jirí Belohlávek on 29 September 2006.

  • Ct + 3(III:pic).3(III:ca).3(III:bcl).3(III:cbn)/
  • Countertenor
  • 25 min
  • Kamo no Chomei
  • English

Programme Note

These days it seems that natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more dramatic. So it is interesting to read the 800-year-old essay by Kamo no Chomei (1153–1216) called Hojoki (An account of my hut) and learn that, in the span of less than a decade in Kyoto, this mediaeval monk witnessed the devastation caused by a great fire, a mighty whirlwind, the uprooting and relocation of his city, a two-year famine, and finally an earthquake. 

Not surprisingly, these events caused the writer to reflect on the impermanence of human dwellings. His own life shows a progressive shedding of living-space, and eventually a retirement from the world to the life of a hermit. I am glad I first encountered his remarkable essay in Donald Keene’s elegant and lyrical translation. I have subsequently read other versions, and it would not have occurred to me to set any of them to music. But Keene’s has an irresistible poetry and depth, which I hope is still discernible in my considerably abridged version. 

David Daniels suggested that I write him a dramatic cantata based on a real historical character. I initially considered various eye-witness accounts of historical events – Pepys and Evelyn writing about the Great Fire of London, Pliny the Younger writing about the eruption of Vesuvius, or Seneca on earthquakes – but I wanted a wider range of contrasts than any one of those events would supply. So I was delighted to discover this wonderful text, with its several disasters, suggesting a series of short narratives with dramatic orchestral interludes. 

Chomei’s progression through distress, finally attaining a mystical serenity in seclusion, offered a musical shape. I have not attempted to write something that sounds Japanese, although, in acknowledgement of the source, I have used Japanese modes – pentatonic at the beginning and the end, minor-sounding in between – and there are occasional echoes of koto and shakuhachi.