Jim Aitchison-a dialogue with Albrecht Dürer

Posted on September 23rd, 2012 by

Jim Aitchison-a dialogue with Albrecht Dürer

Jim Aitchison-Study after Melencolia I. Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (Workshop Recording, London 23rd September 2012)

The compoer writes:’Jim Aitchison, Two Studies after Melencolia I


This deeply resonant image has haunted me for years, and it has taken all of this time to find the courage to make a compositional approach. At present, I am right at the opening of the process, venturing forth, as is my wont, with a beginner’s hope, trying not to think too much about the pitfalls ahead. Thus far, I have several ideas, some becoming more focused, others still elusive and vague. Two studies for solo violin have emerged, with more in gestation, benefiting from the customary attentive nurture of the dedicatee, Peter Sheppard Skærved.


Firstly, for the second study, the magic square provided a concrete point of entry. Contained number systems like this produce, for me, both beautiful certainty and a kind of corresponding mournful futility, as much born out of what they don’t say as what they do. Accordingly, I decided to reflect both the proposed exactness and the implied unexpressed disorder outside it in two separately conceived, but ultimately combined lines for the soloist. The top line uses the numbers of the square strictly, applied to pitch, duration attack and dynamics, while the bottom line ‘plays’ or improvises with the same numbers, but freely. It is the collision of absolute exactness and imaginative, improvisatory freedom in the same, simultaneous utterance that fascinated me…./The first study arrived after this, and in one creative burst over a few hours. Having grappled previously with the hard edges of numbers, I contemplated one of the most disturbing elements of Dürer’s engraving for me: the nebulous phantom skull, faintly visible on the front surface of the mysterious truncated rhombohedron, receiving the gaze of the seated figure of Melancholy. There are many interpretations of this aspect of the image, but it has been impossible not to find grim resonance with what many artists know is the constant companion to, and the ultimate destination of, their endeavors, be it in success or failure. Many things emptied into the music, including, yes, the loss and numbness of contemplating this implacable mirror. Musically, the piece is a simple, haunted lament where motives in sections A and B superimpose in C.’ 1st October 2012


Breakfast and Richter with Jim Aitchison. 7th February 2012

Jim Aitchison has begun a fascinating compositional meditation on ‘Melencholia I’ He wrote, after finishing this movement 6 days ago.

Jim wrote: “Finished my second solo violin piece today for Peter Sheppard Skaerved after Durer’s Melencolia I. The first entailed fun with the magic square, the second was not such fun: reflections upon the figure gazing at the faint phantom skull in ‘Durer’s Solid’ and the loss and numbness of contemplating the implacable mirror…”

Jim’s Melencolia with Albrecht’s, and the Prodigal Son butting in. And I had the temerity to growl about Dürer’s spelling-to which Aitchison adheres faithfully