angels and visitations

When I am ‘actually’ writing I rarely listen to music, finding that its rhythms can interfere with those of the prose I am composing. However, when I am working on planning I often have something on in the background. I use playlists to accompany general ‘thinking’ – Harold Budd, Brian Eno, etc – and much baroque – Bach, Rameau, Couperin, Byrd etc. During more intense ‘thinking’ I might listen to Tangerine Dream, Piazzolla, Varese, Philip Glass.

When more focused on actual scenes, I have developed a habit of assembling pieces into a ‘soundtrack’: sometimes music that represents a specific theme or character in a process somewhat analogous to Wagner’s leitmotifs; or that I use to accompany a particular chapter. It is one of these last that I would like to present here.

Angels and Visitations is by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, one of several modern composers that I have found myself gravitating towards more and more as I have grown older. He creates soundscapes that I find exquisitely atmospheric and that mesh fruitfully with the images in my mind.

I listen to all my music from hard disks and have been unable to find the original CD with its booklet, however, what I remember (perhaps erroneously) is that Rautavaara wrote this piece as a reaction to a time when he was lying ill and perceived an angel to be standing at the foot of his bed; a being that utterly terrified him. This story found strange resonance with the Masters in my Stone Dance trilogy who consider themselves angels and are a terror to those they rule. Angels and Visitations formed part of a particular constellation of themes, but became the dominant soundtrack for the chapter Blood Gate in my book The Third God in which my trilogy reaches a final crisis of the utmost violence and atrocity.

Angels and Visitations is in itself a drama that it seems to me could only have been written post Freud. For beneath its Hieronymous Bosch surface (The Garden of Earthly Delights perhaps?) I sense there moves the leviathan of what Jung would call our collective unconscious, so that this piece does with sound what I feel works of fantasy seek to do with words.

(I have included a link above (and here) to Angels and Visitations because it seems to me rather pointless to discuss a piece of music without it being possible to listen to it. I realize that this may be seen as breaching copyright, however, I do this with the hope that it may cause people to go out and buy some Rautuvaara and thus that what I am actually doing is promoting his work)

6 thoughts on “angels and visitations

  1. Einojuhani Rautavaara (b.1928 – ) is one of my favourite composers,a true heir to Sibelius’s ‘nature mysticism’ ,he was actually one of his pall-bearer’s in 1957, a bit like Schubert to Beethoven.

    The Naxos CD of his 8th symphony is sublime and well worth hearing as is his Harp concerto. The tone poems ‘Isle of Bliss’ and ‘Autumn Gardens’ along with his ‘Cantus Arcticus’ using taped bird-song are also very accessible.

    1. I’ve listened to Rautavaara’s music without knowing much about the man himself. I’m interested in the link with Sibelius… I’ve not listened to the 8th often – I am now doing so. My recordings are all Ondine – with exquisite covers… Have you listened to Book of Visions?

      Having listened to 8th, prefer the 7th…

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