4th August Towards Dover
4-8-14 (Walk cross section, Merstham to Farnham) Workshop recording Wapping 04 08 2014
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (W.E.Hill & Sons 1903)
Another piece emerged over night, as the 4th August dawned. It’s a tentative walking piece, a pilgrimage in the wrong direction, from Merstham to Farnham, reflecting the cross section of the walk, chalk, sand, mud, two rivers.
Things fall apart. The sense of uncertainty, that the centre could not hold, dramatically affected Stravinsky’s approach to the string quartet. Inn 1914, he wrote what has come to be seen, as perhaps the most dramatic reimagining of that form, his ‘Three Pieces’. Nothing would every be the same again.
Igor Stravinsky-Three Pieces for String Quartet Stravinsky, Igor: Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914 rev.1918) Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Morgan Goff, Neil Heyde (Live recording 2014
During the First World War, many of those who served were trained to drive-something not available to the vast majority of the population prior to 1914. When the war ended, the newly demobilised troops (most were back on ‘civvy street’ by the end of 1919), were given the opportunity to buy ex-army vehicles with their (widely varying) demob payements. Many of them set up freight haulage businesses. Rapidly, this, plus the low price of gasoline, drew freight away from the railways, and they never regained their former domination. Last year (2013) 2206278 trucks passed through the port of dover, with it’s 28000 inhabitants….
Swords & Ploughshares
The first tank built for the British Army in 1915 was nicknamed ‘Little Willie’, having been built by ‘William Foster & Co.’ of Lincoln. This firm had spent the second half of the 19th Century building threshing machines for farms. Walking on Brabourne down from Wye to Dover we found a John Deere tracked tractor at work on soft ground-a peaceful benificiary of the evil that men do.
3rd August 2014 Walking Towards Dover-various histories emerge
It seemed important to walk to Dover. Having previously undertaken a large scale artistic project linked to the town (for DAD’s ‘War and Peace’ project), I felt that I needed a new perspective. I live right in the Centre of London, by the Thames at Wapping. It seemed obvious that I should walk the North Downs Way this July, to have the feeling of the Town, of the histories, of the war, and as it turns out, many other things, slowing coming into view. I immediately realised that much (but not all) of the this magisterial hill-track is the old southern Pilgrim Way, for some, on their way to Compostella, and more, going to Canterbury. There was no logic in that finishing at Farnham (where the North Downs Way ends), so I have taken it further, out along St Swithun’s way, to Winchester. This walk took 6 days, and we finished on the 1st July, with the wonder of approaching Shakespeare Cliff from the west, with hundreds of miles under our boots. As we walked, the many travellers who had taken that route to and form Dover seemed to join us.
There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
Looks fearfully in the confined deep:
Bring me to the very brim of it,
And I’ll repair the misery thou dost hear
With something rich about me: from the place
I shall no leading need. (Lear IV-i-76)
Many medieval pilgrims gathered in London around the churches clustered in what is now the ‘Square Mile’, taking Mass at St James’ Garlickhythe, a mile or so from where I am writing, and like Chaucer’s gang, crossing London Bridge (Chaucer’s pilgrims regarded that as enough travelling for one day and went straight to the pub). They still seem to hover around the ‘river churches’. The oldest of all the city foundations, All Hallows by the Tower, has 15th century German sculptures, of a pilgrim (with his cockle shell), St Roch (the lepers saint) and the patron saint of travellers, St Anthony of Egypt, which I suspect were brought to the church by just such pilgrims.
So the idea of pilgrimage has found its way into this project. At the very least, the parallel between the trek to war, and the trek to enlightenment to faith.Quests. This piece, a true walking work for violin, quite literally represents grace, inspiration floating around the traveller, trudging her or his repeating four steps, four notes, without variation. It has been on my mind as we neared Dover on the ancient chalk road.
Biber-Chaconne-Mystery Sonata No 16 ‘Guardian Angel, companion of Mankind’ (ca 1680). Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin.
Reflecting on the year 1914
The year that the war broke out inspired a wide variety of responses-from the heroic to the mocking. I am not quite sure where to place Erik Satie’s extraordinary 3 pieces from 1914 . This piece has been something of an obsession of mine for many years. It is Satie’s only published work for violin and piano, although there is also another (untitled movement) for the combination. The piece is one of Satie’s funniest, and also most melancholy, and it always feels to me that the composer was playing a Magritte-like game with language. The score is littered with playfully poetic performance instructions, ranging from ‘dry and distant bones'( which always put me in mind of T S Eliot’s mock-surreal’I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.’) to ‘crest-fallen'(penaud), after a violin cadenza which is marked ‘with enthusiasm’. The exquisite chorale which begins the work is marked thus:
‘My Chorales equal those of Bach, with this difference; they are less numerous and less pretentious’
Satie-Choses vues à droite et à gauche (sans lunettes) 1914
(Choral hypocrite-Fugue à tâtons-Fantaisie musculaire)
Workshop recording. Peter Sheppard Skærved and Roderick Chadwick. London 2014
Peter Sheppard Skærved & Roderick Chadwick
I will leave it to Apollinaire, who died from his wounds at the end of the war, to respond.
Ocean of Earth
I built a house in the middle of the ocean
Its windows are the rivers which flow from my eyes
Squid groan everywhere as they stick to the walls
Hear their triple hearts and their beaks tapping the glass
The Season that sings
Aeroplanes beat the eggs
Attention-they are going to cast their anchors
Watch out for the ink they are ready to throw
It would be best, if you varnish the sky
The goat-leaf of the heavens
The palpitating earthbound squid
But then we are our more and more our own gravediggers
Pale squid on the waves of chalk, squid of the pale beaks
You know the ocean around the house
Which never rests
2nd August 2014
It is coming clear to me that the interest of Dover in the First World War, is, at least in part, one of typology. Over the next few weeks, I hope that it will become clearer what I mean by this, but first I should explain what I mean. In his Essays in Typology (London, 1963), Woolcombe writes:
‘All parts of the pattern were closely related to each other and converged on the central motif: and all the patter between the beginning and the central axis mirrored the pattern from the central axis to the end.’
In my case, the ‘central axis’ is ‘Dover-1914-1919’. The typologies which are emerging are not only temporal-past/present/future, but of geography, of biography, of idea, of geology, botany…..the list could go on.
But the model of music is my guide. Every piece of music is mapped onto another. My teacher, Louis Krasner, commissioned and premiered Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (another typology-the first performance took place to a background of gunfire in Barcelona in 1936). The concerto, famously ends with a transformation of J S Bach’s version of the Chorale ‘It is enough…’ . The chorale itself was written by Martin Luther. Krasner was adamant about how I should work with this as a young musician:
“Bach wrote (this chorale) so that Berg could find it, and Berg wrote his concerto so that Bach could write his chorale. If you don’t know this, then please leave now.”
(Conversation with Peter Sheppard Skaerved Boston 1989)
Some of the links which are emerging are visual ones. They are not always obvious, and sometimes, I am not sure what I am drawn to them, or make them. Here’s an example:
1st August-what am I aiming at…. I am using this to bring together a broad scope of my practice as an artist in the broadest sense: music is at the centre of my work, so this project challenges me to look at the dialogue between that as a curatorial and a creative act (an example, would be balancing works created by composers during WW1 (with an internal balance, a ‘Weltanschaung’ between music from Britain and from the rest of the world), with my work creating music now (with another internal balance, being works created by my collaborating composers and works which I produce-more on this later.
Anton Webern-Sechs Bagatellen Op. 9 (1914) BagatellenMässig – Leicht bewegt – Ziemlich fliessend – Sehr langsam – Ausserst langsam-Fliessend Kreutzer Quartet Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Morgan Goff, Neil Heyde (Amati Maggini, Daniel Parker, G B Vuillaume) Live Performance 2014
But Music is only part of the equation, the challenge is the ‘site’ this central element with the topography of my visual work (and here is another internal balance/dynamic, between figurative work and non-figurative)-and my work as a writer (which entails yet another balance, between the curatorial act of collecting old writing, and presenting new material).
The landscape which all of this is set in is that of history (and this is the most powerful balance, as I cannot resist the typology of ancient, older history onto the focus iof 1914-19, and all of their projection onto us, today). This sets of another modelling, between Dover, and a broader scale from Kent, to the UK, to Northern Europe, often crossing, as all the elements do, from one integer to another. The most physical environment that this sits in, and this is well under way, is the actual soil, and to that end, I have just completed walking (yesterday) from Winchester to Dover; this walk is serving as a focus for all of these balances (for instance, yesterday, between a 12th century foundation stone in Stowting Church and the acoustic mirror on the cliffs), opening so many ideas and literal vistas.
To answer the question: what do I hope to get out of the project? Clarity.
29th July-I am beginning to find clarity as to what the elements of this project will be. It will reflect on some of the issues which rise from consideration of the First World War, mapped onto and by the presence of Dover in the Conflict.
Elements:Recordings of works written in 1914 (Webern, Stravinsky, Foulds)
Materials: drawings, photos, writing, which map the experience of Dover/Kent 1913-1919 onto and from its place in longer histories, even into the myth of Britain.
Narrative drawn from and to, my ‘walk to Dover’, from Winchester, which has begun to draw parallels between the to-and-from of humanity, concentrated by war, and the notion of pilgrimage, which is littered all over the material from the early 20th Century. An example of the unexpected results from this, is the lady in Hollingbourne through which we walked last week, who was employed by the Ministry, to organise Kent school children to collect 200, 000 tons of conkers – so that the starch could be extracted for cordite for explosives and propellants – this seems to have turned what was a rarely played game of ‘conkers’ into something of martial import-suddenly these inedible nuts had currency, and warrior significance. Fast forward to Kent children later in the century collecting cordite from the beaches (from the ‘Channel Firing) to make fireworks
‘Channel Firing’ begins. Can’t define this project much yet, except to bring together the first ‘piece’ ;Desiderata Curiosa I – Richard Plantagenent/Bricklayer (Eastwell 22 July 2014) (after William Cornish/Thomas Wyatt sen.)(For Sadie Harrison)-just at the desk this glorious evening. Marius and Malene Sheppard Skaerved walked it with me, so know more. Joanna Jones and Clare Smith, this is the first fragment….
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Desiderata Curiosa I – Richard Plantagenent/Bricklayer (Eastwell 22 July 2014) (after William Cornish/Thomas Wyatt sen.)(For Sadie Harrison)(Workshop recording-24/7/14)
‘Ah Robin, gentle Robin, tell me how thy Leman doth/And thou shalt know mine’
‘But if I should be so unfortunate as to lose the battel, then shift as well as you can and take care to tell nobody ever that I am your father; for no mercy shall be shewed to any one so related to me.’Richard III to Richard ‘Plantagenent’ before the battle of Bosworth.
Register book of Eastwell Parish 1550: ‘Rychard Plantagenent was buryed the 22, daye of December anno et supra.