A House of Ghosts
for pianoduration: Ca 23'00"
published by: Composer
These pieces had to be recorded (many years ago) direct from a high-end MIDI piano to cassette and thence to CD and hard drive. The instrument used is a Technics SZ-PX207/M, a venerable item from the early 1990s, still in domestic service and sounding considerably superior to a great many supposedly more advanced pieces of keyboard technology issued since. Pianist: the composer.
This work is a collection of twelve short pieces written at intervals between 1983 and 2000, all bearing titles and conjuring atmospheres related to a distant past. One or two are relatively virtuosic, such as the frenetic Yorick (no. 11), but nearly all lie within the grasp of a competent ABRSM Grade 8 pianist and some are considerably simpler, calling for sensitivity with touch and the pedal rather than for overt technical aplomb. The collective title of the set is borrowed from a rather appositely forgotten poem by Humbert Wolfe. There is no cyclic or integral intention: rather, these pieces were haphazardly amassed at intervals during years when a hectic teaching and administrative schedule left little practical or mental space for anything more demanding. One day it occurred to me that each piece looked a little lonely and adrift on its own, and so they were brought together. They therefore resemble a kind of intermittent chronicle kept by a particularly dilatory diarist.
A sequel to A House of Ghosts exists in the form of A Room at the End of the Mind (a phrase borrowed with permission from a poem by John Burnside). This is another set of twelve pieces, but they are generally for slightly more advanced players than the first set, ending in a more overtly virtuoso piece. A Room at the End of the Mind also differs from A House of Ghosts in that, whereas the letter was dedicated to my children in hopes that they might derive some playing pleasure from them one day, the later set is variously dedicated to friends and colleagues, each having a prefatory paragraph explaining its provenance.
A third dozen is gradually assembling itself, this consisting of more random items such as a pastiche of Medtner, a quasi-Irish love song, a toccata on two Christmas carol tunes and a deeply-felt elegy in memory of my ‘best man’ and dear friend since school days, Jon Leyne (1958-2013), aka Joffy: bassoonist, pianist and the BBC’s talented and dependable anchor news man at the UN in New York, in Tehran and latterly in Cairo, whose death from a malignant brain tumour leaves a lasting void. An unrelated short work also bears a dedication to Jon: the chorale prelude Schmucke dich, O liebe Seele (q.v. elsewhere in this website) commissioned for William Whitehead’s important Orgelbuchlein project which is steadily amassing original modern works based on the chorale tunes which Bach never reached.