Paul Pellay-Thesaurus of Violinistic Fiendishness

Posted on June 16th, 2011 by

Paul Pellay 
Thesaurus of Violinistic Fiendishness Books 1-7, for solo violin (2002-04) 
Peter Sheppard Skaerved – Violin (Stradivari 1698 ‘Joachim’) 

 Recording Courtesy of Astounding Sounds (Engineer Jonathan Haskell) 2010

Sketch by Paul Pellay for Book 6 of the cycle 'Con(di)vergences'

Book 1 (2002) 

Book 2 – Black Studies (after Goya) (2003) 

Book 3 – Mid-South Recollections (2003) 

Book 4 – Dovetail Variants, Deviants and Digressions (2003) 

Book 5 – Sereno (Polittico Ungarettiano) (2003) 

Book 6 – Con(Di)vergences (2004) 

Book 7 (2004) 

The composer writes: The present work began as a single piece entitled “Riding the Comet’s Tail”, which 
was written in 2002 at Peter Sheppard Skaerved’s request for a short piece on an 
astronomical subject that he intended to perform at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. 
Even before the performance, I felt that the medium of unaccompanied violin could 
lend itself to further and much more extensive exploration, so through the course of 3 
years, what began as a brief 2-minute piece mushroomed into 7 books of similarly 
scaled movements, the whole lasting some 110 minutes or so, with “Riding the 
Comet’s Tail” kicking off Book 1. Book 7 ends symmetrically with a similarlythemed 
movement entitled “Cosmic Buckaroo!”, thus bringing the whole process full 
Peter premiered each book separately, with each premiere taking place in a different 
country: thus Book 1 was first heard at York University late in 2002; the next 3 books 
were unveiled in reverse order over a period of just over 3 weeks between late 
October and late November 2003, at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, the 
Musikhøst 2003 Festival in Odense, Denmark, and in Ankara, Turkey, respectively. 
Book 5 first saw the light of day in Nashville in February 2004, Book 6 was 
premiered at the 2004 Tirana New Music Festival in Albania and Book 7 followed 
suit in July that same year in Mexico City. The Thesaurus was first performed in its 
entirety at St. Bartholomew the Great, London, on 11 December 2004. 
Many of my preoccupations are collected in these 7 books, be it in terms of a pictorial 
nature (as in Book 2’s musical disquisitions on several of Goya’s so-called “Black 
Paintings”), or of a structural nature (the treatment of differing aspects of variation 
forms in Books 4 and 6), or of musical autobiography (Book 3, which treats a number 
of incidents during the times I spent in and around Memphis in the US at different 
times during the 1990s), or a response to a literary stimulus (as in Book 5, where each 
movement is based on a line of the same brief poem by Giuseppe Ungaretti). Books 1 
and 7 are the jokers in the pack, as they are more in the nature of compositional grabbags 
without a single unifying element: within them, musical caricatures of US 
political figures from the first few years of the present Millennium rub shoulders with 
homages to composers and colleagues I admire (Ives, Stravinsky, Augusta Read 
Thomas) and a few more slivers of musical autobiography. In short, the work as a 
whole is really a musical diary covering 3 years of my life and evolution as a 
composer, with all the complications and paradoxes entailed therein! 
Paul Pellay, February 2011.