Priaulx Rainier

Posted on November 30th, 2009 by

Priaulx Rainier-Fragment ‘Rhythms of the Stones’ 23-01-2006

20th July 1950

(Rainier observing Barbara Hepworth, with John Wells, Dennis Mitchell, at work in the Trewyn Studio, on Contrapuntal Forms]



‘CONTRAPUNTAL FORMS’                    ‘Rhythms of the Stones’

 BARBARA HEPWORTH                              Priaulx Rainier       

Blue limestone. Carving
Height 2.4m (7’ 9”)
Glebelands housing area
Owned by Harlow Art Trust

Contrapuntal Forms was commissioned for the 1951 South Bank Festival of Britain Exhibition. Afterwards it was chosen for Harlow in the distribution of the Festival works, vested in the Art Trust by the Harlow Development Corporation and sited in the Glebelands housing area.


In the summer of 1950, Hepworth invited Rainier to St Ives, establishing a pattern which saw Rainier divide here life between there and London. Hepworth had just acquired a new studio, Trewyn, the previous autumn, and from the time of this visit, Rainier helped design and choose the plants for the garden. On the 20th July 1950, Rainier notated ‘Rhythms of the Stones’ listening to Hepworth at work with her assistants, Denis Mitchell and John Wells. ‘The sound of a mallet or hammer is music to my ears, when either is used rhythmically’, Hepworth later wrote.


Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Research Fellow

With Rebecca Pascoe-Research Assistant


Overheard on the film: “It was quite fun-I managed to get some sparks to fly.”


Today, we are going to begin from the basis that none of us know what we are doing here. As you can see, you have all come, in been given a piece of paper and two rocks. I have no real idea what is going to happen, but somehow, between us all, we will make sense of this.


I am joined today by Rebecca Pascoe, who will be assisting today.


You are sitting in the heart of the Academy-sorry, you can’ drink coke in here-in this bit of the room where you are sitting, you are surrounded by about twelve million pounds worth of instruments. I don’t want to harp on about money, but there is a reason for my doing it; all the instruments around you are by Antonio Stradivari, as is the one that I will be playing today (picks up violin).


So, what is the connection between this very old, and very expensive, piece of wood, and this piece of rock?  The connection is to do with material. I want you to all think about what it is that we use to make music; what are the materials that we use? It is the composer, Priaulx Rainier, who can help us make the link.


But to begin-lets find out which are you are playing instruments-how many are string players?-how many play percussion?-“I play the drums!”-how many are wind players?-how many are composers? [no hands] how many have composed? [few more hands] how many have tried composing? [lots of hands]. That is great, that means that all of you hear know what I mean if I talk about composing. You would be surprised, to know, that if I had asked the same question to a similar group of young students ten years ago, I can promise you that only one or two people in the room would have answered yes. This has been a wonderful change, which means that when we have to talk about what it feels like to be a composer as well as a player, then you know what I am talking about.  When I was a teenager, I had certainly not given any thought to the relationship between a piece of music and composing it, or the question of communicating with a composer as to what the music might mean. For you generation, composing has always been part of your musical life, and a lot of you will have improvised as well.


We are looking at two linked figures today; the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and the composer Priaulx Rainier. These two women were born three weeks apart in 1903, but about as far away from each other as they could possibly have been. Priaulx Rainier, who, like me, came from French Huguenot Background, was born in Natal, in what is now Zululand, and Hepworth was born in Cornwall. Their paths crossed in the middle of the 20th century, and we are going to be looking at what happened when they meet.


But before that, I want us to think a little about, how is it that Music and Art, Music and Sculpture, be linked to each other? How can a piece of sculpture be a little bit like a piece music?


“They are both Artistic.”


That is very interesting. What do you mean by that word, ‘Artistic’? I don’t really understand what the word means.



“ You can make things…”


…that is the most important thing that anyone is going to say today. They are both about the making-it is fascinating that what you talked about was the  making of the piece of sculpture, because what we are talking about here is making. But, when you make a sculpture, it is made before people see it. When does music get ‘made’? When you ‘make music’, when does that happen? We are talking about playing; when we talk about making a piece of sculpture, we are talking about preparation, but when we talk about making music, it is usually to do with performance. It is that borderline, that we are exploring here. 


But composers and artists have always been fascinated with each other, that the other was having more fun in their work-especially as the problem  that composers constantly face it that, unless musicians like us get together and do their piece of art, it absolutely does not exist. This is very different from a book.


A score, such as this one, is not the piece, and unless you have highly specialised skills, you cannot even read this score, and experience the piece. I have been a musician for many more years than I am prepared to admit, and I can just about read this orchestral score, which is in twenty or so parts, and hear it in my head. But that does not mean that I am experiencing the piece. Unlike a book, that is not what this is designed to do.  All that a score is, is a series of instructions as to certain actions, and if we follow those instructions, then something, hopefully, might happen, if we don’t mess up-and of course, the ‘messing up’ thing it something we will get to in a minute. But this means that a score is ‘provisional’; which means that-‘If you do this, then something should happen, whereas it appears that a sculpture is fixed, its  there.


If we look at this violin here, you can see it, you don’t have to do anything in order to see it, do you? But can you see the back of it? To see that, what would you have to do?


“Walk around that way.”
What would you not be able to see from there?


“The front.”


Precisely-to see a piece of sculpture, you have to move around it, like a building, which is not designed to be experienced by standing in front of it,  but around and through it. If you think of that violin as a sculpture, suddenly, it becomes a little bit akin to a musical score, because the only way that you can possibly experience it, is by moving around it.


Today, people find Hepworth’s work a little difficult. It is very refined, pure even. It can even seem a little colourless. Here is an example of one piece, which has many musical links. Hepworth was fascinated with music, in particular with the composer, Bach. “In Bach,” she wrote, “the visual sense is always delighted, because every movement is beautiful.  All the bows make lovely rhythmic movements, a lovely vision.”

If I play a phrase of Bach: [B minor Double (Sarabande)], what she was interested in was not the sound, but the ‘movement’. The movement is:


“Beautiful…” [Hesitant]


It is interesting how hesitant you are about saying that. We have to be explicit about the fact that we are talking about BEAUTY. Look at this BEAUTIFUL [pointing] face…and don’t be scared of it.


I chose a bare piece of music, one which is just about movement. What do the notes do? Watch from the end of the violin-do it with your hand….what did he do?


“He made an arch…”


It is this movement in the air, without notes, which makes up at least 50% of music. I don’t really understand   listening   to music. I can listen to it, recorded, to ‘log’ it, but I need this action. I need something to happen. That is what Hepworth might have been talking about.


So that is our boring beginning.


Now. Action. Movement.


On the 20th July 1950, Hepworth was working in the garden of her studio in St Ives, Cornwall. With her were her two sculpting assistants…


Why would she have an assistant?


“To work quicker…”


But why? What does this tell you about what kind of pieces she was making?


“They were big.”


Think about this, the assistants were cutting away the big amounts of material that Hepworth needed to get rid of in order that she could make the sculptures. Imagine a boulder the size of this exhibition case, being delivered. Hepworth would draw the sections she needed cutting away , directly onto the piece of stone. Two men, John Wells and Denis Mitchell, had the job of cutting away this extra material, so that Hepworth could get to here real work.


Now, can anyone tell me something about the north Cornish landscape?


“Rocks everywhere”


…so Hepworth was working in a medieval cottage in this beautiful town, the most westerly in England , an ancient city looking out over the Atlantic, with her assistants, and with her, was for the first time that summer, the composer Priaulx Rainier. For the rest of Rainier’s life, she would spend every summer in Cornwall. She bought her own studio there. But on that day, the two women were beginning their collaboration.


Eventually Rainier helped to plant the garden with exotic African plants.


But now, I want you to think about a composer in that environment. Now composers are like ‘Sound magnets’.  Think of it if you are using a sample to compose a song. It might be just as much the feeling that the sound gives you, as much as the actual rhythm or timbre of the sound itself.


When I was a child, people expected that the music of the future would all be very ‘non-material’, like bad, if you imagine such a thing. Jean-Michel Jarre. Like R-2 D-2, who we all want to shoot by the end of Star Wars-he has no anima, no grit. But that is not the sound that we are interested in now. And it was not the sound of the music that Rainier was interested in.


So as she sat there, surrounded by the people working at the stone, she started to hear things happening.  She started to hear what we call ‘isometric’ rhythms.  We don’t need to talk about what that means, but it is worth saying the Barbara Hepworth was very keen on one aspect of sculpting; that is that it had to be rhythmic.


Let’s make that event happen, before we look at what Priaulx Rainier notated. Then we will go backwards and see if what is there, when we look at the notation, is anything like what happens when we try the event out.


So to start with, I want you to make a bit of Chaos. Please take the two stones which are on or under your chair. No-no sound. There is a real rule about music. I need to talk about intention. You do not do anything that you did not mean. The only rule for today, is to decide to do something, and do it. Don’t just fiddle, don’t ‘noodle’.


I want each of you to think of  yourselves sculpting something, and when I indicate, I want you to start hiiting the stones together as if you were sculpting a piece of material. Any volume and any speed that you want. And, do not listen to anybody else at all. Just watch me, and I will cut you off.


[they play]


Stop! That was beautiful. You might as well go home now. That was fantastic. The terrible truth for a composer is that most composers know that they will never do anything as good as that. I can demonstrate another way. Can I ask you to all sing one note-I need to demonstrate how beautiful accidents are.  Hum any note that you want without listening. Don’t adjust it, do not listen. Only sing the note in your head. Only sing the right note.


[They sing]

Hold it-add the percussion.


[Singing and percussion]


What it shows you is that that was the most amazing chord. Can I have all the men please?


[Boys sing]


No, don’t laugh at yourselves. What you came up with was an amazingly thick texture. Sing-get louder-crescendo-what is interesting was that the chord found its centre.  When we did the rhythm, the centre was in the middle here, the person playing 4/4 over here.


Now lets here the women-alright, the Girls! Sorry!


[Girls sing]


Keep it as quiet as that. Bring up the heart of the chord-over there.


What I wanted to show you with those two things is that what comes out by accident is extraordinary. Things which are not designed are extraordinary.


[series of experiments with stones-conducted-drawing out areas]


Now before we look at what Rainier was doing, I want one person to start, and then one by one, I want each person to come in, answering that person. Choose to imitate or not.


[entries in turn]


After two entries, we have heard an isometric rhythm; the two rhythms didn’t gel particularly, but gradually, they work their way out. [Demonstrates 2 against 3 and 3 against 4]. Let’s build it up further.


[more play stones]


Listen to each other, adjust, be with other. You have made a complicated rhythmic form which would be quite difficult to make. This is what Rainier found herself listening to in Hepworth’s garden. She seems to have found herself listening to the isometric combinations of players, by which I mean, sculptors, who were listening, and at the same time, not listening.



So what did change when you decided to listen to what was going on?


“Something coming from over there [points]”


Were you able to completely go with it?




That is a really important answer. Can I give you the idea of ‘perpetuating the lie’? Often in music, we performers pretend to the audience that we know what we are doing.  We play chamber music and we gaze into each other’s eyes,  trying to give and receive messages, using this language that we all know so well, and in which, in truth, we have no idea what we are saying to each other.


We have to work with the mis-sent and misperceived messages-it can go extremely the other way. You will often see highly trained professional musicians at complete physical odds with each other, because they don’t know which message to ‘read’ from each other.


So let’s play again. Begin with Chaos. Choose to work with one other person. Adjust what you are playing to work with that. Gradually move towards a dominant rhythm.




Go away from it…




Back towards it again.


Fantastic. Why is that you cannot not walk in step with someone. Where does our need to walk in step come from? Is it informed by our hearing, or our sight?




…yes, but where are we experiencing this movement?


“Because I was talking with them.”


Which is great because you have given it purpose, communication, but WHY?




What about something less subtle.


“I can hear the person that I am walking with.”

Yeah, but I have a feeling that it is also very much visual. Remember what Hepworth said about the ‘look’ of the Bach.


So lets introduce what Hepworth and Rainier said about Rhythm.


 But first-a problem with teaching and study. The worst thing that you can do in any field is to listen too much to what commentators and critics have said about what people do and have done.  People’s opinions get in the way. That is why, in this building, we are so passionate about getting back to the blood and guts of what people do. That is why, I believe it is important to get near instruments, and near to each other.


But what is interesting is what does the creator, the artist say about what they are/ were doing. I can learn something from that. So here are some quotes from Rainier, a composing string player, on sculpture, and Hepworth, a sculptor, on music. You don’t have to do anything with these, just bits of evidence. These were all written in 1950 between the two of them.


Rainier to Hepworth: “You have achieved the world to which I struggle, which is so hard in music.”


Hepworth to Rainier: “I am thinking about music as being the life of forms.”


Hepworth; “The sound of a mallet or a hammer is music to my eyes, when either is done rhythmically”


As I mentioned earlier, Hepworth was obsessed with the idea that one could not sculpt, unless it was done rhythmically, unless it was done musically. In the 1950’s in a letter to Rainier, she noted: “I must go, the hammers are not rhythmical”…meaning that the people working outside in her garden were working un-rhythmically, making her sure that she would find a mess when she got there.


These are just tiny fragments, pieces of broken rock to think about. And finally. Hepworth wrote about the “special pleasure which sculptors can have from carving, which is like a complete a complete unity of physical and mental rhythm.”


That must sound abstract, but do you remember that before I asked you to do your rhythms, I asked you to put it in your head first. At the back, John;  when you put a rhythm into your head, how did you experience it? This is a tough question.




Do it now-but what are experiencing it.


[Another voice] “You could be visualising it.”

Now you might be a synaesthetic, but if I put a complicated chord or rhythm in my head now, I am singing it in my head, but I am not hearing it, or seeing it. I would recognise it. It is entirely non physical.  Try..




You came up with a very natural rhythm, very difficult to notate, but it is clear that you knew what you were doing. That was an internal rhythm, being made physical.


So lets now work with  Rainier’s rhythm…If you look at this piece of paper, it is a bit of a mystery, as no one really knows what it is-it is not percussion notation. You will notice that I have chose to not play you a single note of Rainier’s music, and the only note of Rainier’s music that you are going to hear here today will be what you make out of these two pieces of paper. But nobody knows what these bits of paper are, or what instruments they are fore. I am going to use Becca here. All it tells us, is who is hitting which stones-Barbara, Denis, or Alan.


[plays the rhythm with Rebecca]


I don’t mind mess, so lets just see what happens if we just read it. All non-music readers play visually with Becca.



[various experiments]


Close your eyes and do the same thing. Straight away, you were using your ears to infect  each other. You started working together. Now back to the notation again.




Now close your eyes and do it from memory.




The notation has started to become redundant. This is how we use a piece of music.


If I take this piece-Rainier’s Wildlife Celebration, I use the music, but I don’t read  the music. The music reminds me of what I am going to have to do. What just happened in that last experiment was that you started to shift away from the reading…it wasn’t purely memory or improvising.


[More experiments-with adding articulations in the score]


By now, we have talked about music for nearly one hour without talking about pitch-actual notes. [brief introduction of adding ciphers into music, such as BABAA for ‘Ba[r]ba[r]a’].

If you look at the bottom of the piece of paper that Rainier notated the Rhythmns of the Stones on, you will find [plays] Barbara’s first name, rotating, maybe with the D for Denis.


[more experiments]


Now lets bring the elements together. Guitars and violinst doing their cipher material, and then I will bring the free stone material in when seems right. Make a decision to use the rhythm or not, but stick to it.


[Various elements play]


To recap, what we have done, is that we have taken some of he elements from this imagined, added them to some of the things which you as a groupg  here have brought up and two names over here.  What have we been doing?

“It’s improvising…”


Is it-I have been waiting for someone to use that word. But if you think about it, for every step along the way, we have been discussing, strategising, trying things out. This, to be honest, is much closer to composing. Perhaps, the division, is the where the decision making point comes in the process. Michael Tippett said to me that that composing, for him, was the “hardest job” that he knew. Music, for him, was like getting blood from a stone, and that was his job. Improvising is much more flowing.


But lets go righ back to what we started with, a piece of sculpture.  Look at the sculpture that Hepworth on,  Contrapuntal Forms. Play what you just played again, listening to the counterpoint of it, how elements are set against and with each other. When you play two lines of music together, they don’t just agree. So lets do it again, and listen to this dialogue to finish the formal part of this.