Always without formulating the concept, I had based my sense of being in the world partly on an unreasoned conviction that certain areas of the earth's surface contained more magic than others... a secret connection between the world of nature and the consciousness of man, a hidden but direct passage which bypassed the mind.Paul Bowles reflects on 'thin places' in words inspired by his first sighting of the coast of North Africa, a region which was to become his home for more than fifty years. The quote comes from Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno's rewarding biography of Bowles which I read on my recent travels. North Africa and its particular brand of magic has been a recurring destination on this blog, but my header photo was taken last week in another 'thin place', the Vendée region of France. John Tilbury's monumental Cornelius Cardew - a life unfinished was among my other reading there. Paul Bowles was, of course, also a prolific composer. His 1947 Sonata for Two Pianos was performed by Cornelius Cardew and Richard Rodney Bennett while they were students at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Their programme also included sonatas by Giselher Klebe and Poulenc together with Copland's Piano Variations played by Cardew. The soundtrack of my travels included the recently re-released 1967 recording by the QUaX Ensemble of Cornelius Cardew's extraordinary Treatise - "for any number of musicians with any instruments, may be performed whole or in part". John Tilbury provides the sleeve notes to US independent label Mode Records' double CD as well as devoting an authoritative section in his study of Cardew to this groundbreaking score. Read more about Treatise and the QUaX Ensemble recording here while Paul Bowles pursues secret musical connections under the sheltering sky here.
* Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Cornelius Cardew's The Great Learning were performed at a BBC Promenade Concert in 1972. The work, which sets translations of Confucius by Ezra Pound, generated considerable controversy before its Proms performance. Unbeknown to the BBC Cardew had revised the work in line with his hardening Maoist views. This meant the revised version came complete with the composer's politically motivated programme note and banners for display in the hall including "Apply Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung thought in a living way to the problems of the present". An unsatisfactory and typically British compromise was eventually struck between BBC controller of music William Glock and Cardew which resulted in an emasculated 12 minute excerpt of The Great Learning being performed without slogans or polemical programme note. Unsurprisingly Cardew's music has not been heard since at a Prom. But in 2010 money has replaced Maoism as the taboo topic at the BBC, so Cardew's Bun No. 1 is being given together with works by John Cage, Morton Feldman and others in the late night Prom on August 20. Market forces and music at the BBC collide again here.
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