We’re back in Ireland for the next in my Lent Series devoted to music by women composers. Linda Buckley comes from the wonderfully-named Old Head of Kinsale, in County Cork. Her studies have centred around Trinity College Dublin, where she completed her Ph.D. and now lectures. Buckley composes intrumental and electronic music, which appear to be characterised by what i can only describe as a kind of intense radiance, incorporating an overt triadic impulse and also strong tendencies toward the microtonal. Put simply, she makes the pitch domain shine in a way that both comforts and blanches, a quality that permeates her sumptuous 2011 orchestral work chiyo.
The work’s over-arching simplicity (and its title) is inspired by the work of the Japanese haiku poet Fukuda Chiyo-ni. Buckley is chiefly drawn to her “simply, understated beauty” and “sense of oneness with nature” (see programme note below), creating the material for chiyo from layering individual melodic strands on top of each other. Moving at different tempi, the resulting delicate tangle is simultaneously rich and clouded; the work opens in just this way, like a chord sequence blurred or waterlogged, dissonances adding some piquant smears to the texture. Its cyclic simplicity is redolent of both the clean innocuity of a film score (Never Let Me Go springs to mind) and the mesmeric oscillations of Arvo Pärt. Buckley approaches the orchestra here as a collection of discrete timbral entities, almost like organ stops, blocks of colour that can be individuated and intermingled, in order “to isolate and home in on the individual quality of each sound world”. Having begun with the strings, a woodwind and brass episode suddenly takes over (garnished with a bowed vibraphone), before the texture migrates downward to the double basses and thence to the deep brass, round and round while a lone trumpet feels its way forward without wanting to deviate too far away. Buckley imperceptibly slows (or appears to slow) the overall tempo, bringing an air of melancholy to the music while at the same time gradually increasing its intensity; by keeping the music obfuscated, the effect is almost like a stately chorale trying to break free. Only at the work’s denouement does genuine clarity feel attained, a clear line emerging, flooding all registers and cancelling them out as it rises, ending with just a flute.
This performance of the UK première was given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Garry Walker.
chiyo is inspired by the haiku poetry of Chiyo-ni (Japan, 18th century). Chiyo-ni is widely regarded as one the greatest female haiku poets. Her work is characterized by a simple, understated beauty, and is often concerned with the human connection to nature, the sense of oneness with nature. This is perhaps best exemplified in some of the poetry which served as an inspiration for this piece.
cool clear water
and fireflies that vanish
that is all there is.
only in the river
of hidden things
Within the piece, more complex resultant textures are created from the superimposition of quite simple melodic lines, like sections of plainchant, moving at different speeds – these lines may become abstracted or blurred due to the density of layering, with fragments emerging momentarily, ‘the beauty of hidden things’.
I was also interested in treating the orchestra in ‘block’ form, eg. focusing on the string family alone, wind, brass, and full orchestral forces, to isolate and home in on the individual quality of each sound world, akin to the simple single image of water, of fireflies, of moonflowers. It is this quiet beauty that has always impacted on me, the power of a single image, a single word – as Cocteau notes “True tears are not shed over a sad page, but over the miracle of a word in exactly the right place.”