composer | conductor
Commissioned for Philippa Mo by the Tate St. Ives to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Barbara Hepworth Sculture Garden and first performed on the 9th April 2016 in the garden by Philippa.
In 1953 Hepworth’s son Paul died in a plane crash while serving with the Royal Air Force in Thailand. Seeking relief from the trauma of her son's death, Hepworth travelled to Greece with her friend Margaret Gardiner in August 1954. They visited Athens, Delphi, and many of the Aegean Islands. When Hepworth returned to St Ives from Greece in August, she found that Gardiner had sent her a large shipment of Nigerian guarea hardwood. Although she received only a single tree trunk, it arrived at the dock weighing 17 tons, and the six pieces were manhandled up the cobbled streets to her studio. Between 1954-1956 Hepworth sculpted six pieces out of the guarea wood, many of which were inspired by her trip to Greece.
When I visited the Tate Britain’s exhibition of Hepworth’s work Sculpture for the Modern World, I was astounded by both the beauty and scale of the hand carved sculptures of guarea wood, and in particular Delos, Corinthos and Delphi. I knew at once that these sculptures would be the inspiration for this commission, and I would translate the three physical works into sonic sculptures.
The two circles are represented in the first few bars comprising of a melodic fragment that is played on two strings. In Hepworth’s sculpture, the circular motion appears to spiral out from the two circles and in much the same way, the melodic fragment unravelling into larger transformations.
This sculpture is the most substantial of the three, and to represent this, the movement is played exclusively on the lowest string of the violin. Hepworth appears to have carved very much with the grain to create the sculpture. In a similar vein, I have worked with the nature of the violin to create the music by using natural harmonics, which are slightly ‘out of tune’. The microtonal characteristics of the harmonics are also employed in the melodic material, creating an earthy timbre to the movement.
Delphi’s appearance closely resembles that of the ancient harp-like instrument, the lyre, which inspired the pizzicato (plucked) material in this movement. The music has an arching structure, like the sculpture, and opens and closes with a chant-like melody. This tune is a reimagining of the first section of the First Delphic Hymn, which is one of the earliest examples of notated music, written by the ancient Greeks on a slab of marble.
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Full recording by Philippa Mo
9th April 2016 - Philippa Mo, Tate St.Ives
1st Sept 2017 - Philippa Mo, Slader's Yard
27th Marh 2018 - Philippa Mo, Shortwave Cafe
24th May 2018 - Philippa Mo, Chelsea Flower Show