Summer 夏


It has been a while since my last blog post. After the performance of String Quartet in C at the Chofu International Music Festival on 3 July, the second half of 2021 was incredibly busy in my “Monday to Friday job”. But sometimes a break from writing music is necessary to clear the mind and let new ideas emerge naturally. Over the autumn, the idea for the next piece came together, and then over the new year holiday I made rapid progress. It’s now complete. The piece is called Summer Songs, and is a short suite for baritone, violin and piano that celebrates the English summer.

In Tokyo, I am unable to say that summer is my favourite season. Once the rainy season (tsuyu) begins in June, life can be pretty sweaty and unbearable until the worst of the summer heat is over in mid-September. But in England (and also Hokkaido, where I lived from 2004-2018), the period from June to August is undoubtedly my favourite time of year. There are plenty of poets who seem to agree, and having found three lovely poems that evoke wonderfully the English summer (read them here), I got to work setting them to music.

Summer Songs was written in reverse order. In other words, I started with the third movement, I love to see the summer beaming forth, using the poem by John Clare (1793-1864). It is a poem that just cries out for a big tune to celebrate some glorious summer weather. I hope I have found one! When setting words to music I try to follow two principles. First, the rhythm of the melody should reflect how someone would read the poem out loud to an audience. So, I started by setting the words in rhythm to a single note, and after that added pitch and harmony. Second, I look for hints in the words that can be codified in leitmotifs or other musical devices. Clare’s poem starts with the brightest, boldest of phrases, and then seems to taper away to more mellow images of late summer. Therefore I started with the big tune in a bright C major, which then modulates down through keys with increasing numbers of flats to end in an autumnal G flat major.

The second movement (both in the order of the piece, and in the order of being written) sets to music The Fly by William Blake (1757-1827). It’s a very short poem, but a very thought-provoking one. He swats a fly, ending its “summer play”. This then provides an opportunity to reflect on the value of life, and how quickly it may be “brushed away”. On a musical level, this translates into an irritating, repetitive passage for violin that is ended by a clap from the baritone, who then regrets his actions in melancholy recitative.

The final movement written was the first movement of the suite. It uses the poem Summer by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). This was the obvious poem to have at the beginning of the suite because Rossetti starts by explaining why summer is her favourite season – my feelings entirely! The second verse, about a “pendulum spider swing[ing] from side to side”, has a lilting accompaniment resembling a pendulum. As in Clare’s poem, Rossetti evokes the lazy atmosphere of late summer in her closing stanza, so once again the music gradually heads towards more autumnal keys with ever more flats. And what comes at the very beginning of the piece was the last thing to be written. The opening of the first movement, written in the knowledge of everything that is to come, borrows musical ideas from the other movements to connect the suite together into a circular whole, like the coming of the seasons year after year.

It is only a short piece (around seven minutes in total), and it is all very traditional in both style and conception. But given the upheavals of the past two years, perhaps the comfort of something traditional and familiar is what we need at present. I am hoping that Summer Songs can receive its first performance this summer, and then soon after that I will be able to enjoy an English summer for the first time in three years. The photograph above (the view of the West Sussex countryside from Arundel Castle) was taken on my last visit in the summer of 2019, before the pandemic made international travel virtually impossible. More than simply being yet another evocation in music of the English countryside, therefore, Summer Songs expresses my hope that the longest period I have ever spent away from the people and places in England that are special to me will come to an end in the summer of 2022.

16 January 2022




「夏の調べ」は逆順に書かれました。つまり、ジョン・クレア(1793-1864年)の詩をもとに、第3楽章「I love to see the summer beaming forth」(輝く夏をみるのが好き)から着手したのです。この詩は、輝かしい夏の天気を賛美する壮大な曲を求めているのですが、ぴったりの曲を書けたことを願っています!なお、私が言葉を音楽に当てはめる際には、2つの原則の下で行うように心がけています。まず、詩を聴衆に向かって読み聞かせるとした場合のリズムを、メロディにも反映させることです。従って、私は言葉を単音のリズムに乗せることから始めて、その後に音程や和声を加えていくのです。次に、言葉の中にライトモティーフなどの音楽的な仕掛けとなるヒントがないかを探します。クレアの詩は、輝くような大胆なフレーズで始まり、晩夏の穏やかなイメージへと収束していきます。そこで私の曲では、明るいハ長調の壮大な音から始めることとし、その後フラットの数が増える調へと転調しながら、秋らしい変ト長調で終わるようにしました。

(曲の順序としても、書かれた順序としても2番目の)第2楽章は、ウィリアム・ブレイク(1757-1827年)の「The Fly」(蝿)を音楽にしたものです。非常に短い詩でありながら、とても考えさせられる作品です。ブレイクは、蝿を叩いて、その「夏の遊び」を終わらせてしまいます。これをきっかけに、人生の意義とそれがいかに早く「払い除けられてしまう」のかということに考えを巡らせます。音楽的には、バイオリンによって苛立つような楽節が繰り返されますが、バリトンが手を叩く音によって絶たれてしまいます。その後、バリトンは、物悲しいレチタティーヴォで、自らの行動を悔やむのです。