for guitar

8 minutes

I wrote this, my first guitar piece, between 1988 and 1994. It began life as the solo part in a concertante work, but I became aware quite quickly that the material was not well suited to an ensemble format, and I adapted it as a solo. Unsurprisingly, in the thirty years between my completing the work and now, I have forgotten almost everything about how it came to be beyond that basic provenance.

I can, however, cast some light on the title, and the work’s meaning in general. Published in 1939, On the Marble Cliffs (Auf den Marmorklippen) by Ernst Jünger is sui generis, a seemingly anti-Nazi novel by a career Nazi. Jünger himself was hesitant to trumpet it as an anti-fascist novel, and it may be that Stuart Hood’s English translation is tendentiously liberal; George Steiner’s cautionary introduction to the Penguin Modern Classics edition counsels ambivalence. To be fair, On the Marble Cliffs has also been described as a fascist parable of the threat of Communism, but I have to say when I first read it no such implication crossed my mind. The whole character of the depicted society is redolent of die Freischütz; hardly very Stalinist. My liking for the book was coloured mainly by its elegiac, eschatological, tone and vivid depictions of wildlife – Jünger was an entomologist and botanist by training, and continued to be fêted in that world until his death (at 102!) in 1998. He belongs with Céline and Drieu la Rochelle as very right-wing WWII authors whose literary merits compensate to some degree for their views.

Severance carries the following epigraph from On the Marble Cliffs:

“You all know the wild grief that besets us when we remember times of happiness. How far beyond recall they are, and we are severed from them by something more pitiless than leagues and miles. In the afterlight, too, the images stand out more enticing than before… And constantly in our thirst-haunted dreams we grope for the past in its every detail, in its every line and fold. Then it cannot but seem to us as if we had not had our fill of love and life; yet no regret brings back what has been let slip .”

Almost uniquely in my output - burns is the only other such - severance is entirely notated in time/space, aka proportional notation. Normally in my work I adapt the preliminary time/space score into a standard metric framework, but for this piece I felt that the loose, elastic notation better suited the musical character than the mensural straitjacket.

The piece was premièred and recorded for CD by Geoffrey Morris soon after it was written; his is the outstanding recording that accompanies the score on Score Follower. It has subsequently been performed and recorded by a number of guitarists, including Anders Førisdal and Grahame Klippel. Most recently, Tomas Laukvik Nannestad has posted a fine performance on YouTube and that recording is on the Video tab.

severance (8′) (1988–94)

A score-synced version of severance can be found on the Score Follower channel.

Performance by Tomas Laukvik Nannestad.