Knowledge Exchange Violin 2022

Posted on June 3rd, 2022 by


A seven-month project, funded by Research England June – December 2022. 

Playing/talking. Full Circle, Brussels. 9 6 22

 

With thanks to the Royal Academy of Music 

Knowledge Exchange Violin is an eight month project with institutions and collaborators on both sides of the Atlantic. It is an open-ended exploration, violin in hand, of questions, ideas, and possibilities that emerge from the shared creative and questing process. The ‘big picture’ is the natural world, and our place (or not) in it. And the small focus, the soul the journey is the violin, in action, being made, bow on string, an idea and machine, whose usefulness seems to trascend eras and epochs.

Collaborating Institutions

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Library of Congress, Washington DC

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Schubert Club Museum, St Paul

Cyprus Archelogical Museum, Nicosia

MIM, Brussels

Full Circle, Brussels

DAY by DAY – the project unfolds -(Blog reads from top to bottom-scroll down for most recent)

Environment: a moment at RSPB Farham Heath

 

Day one – 3rd June 2022-643 Euston – Oxenholme

The train pulls out of Euston Station on time, and our carriage is empty. This is a familiar point of departure, but today, something very different in the air. The project begins here. Malene Skaerved and I are en route to RSPB Leighton Moss, one of two reservers which are fundamental to my project.

There have been many conversations over the past few months, as ‘Knowledge Exchange Violin’ started to come into focus, with my collaborators on this project. The recurring theme, is that all that we know about the project, is that it will find its themes, its motifs, in the doing. Talking with one of my colleagues from the USA, she observed: ‘I have never seen you like this: usually you know exactly what you are going to do … this is different. And that is a good thing.’

So the best way to explain what it is that I am doing, is to introduce the themes  and materials. These will shift and change, but this is where we start:

  1. The storytelling violin. Workshops, collaborations, meetings, history
  2. Migration, travel, emigration, exile, encounters
  3. Music in the landscape. Environment, ecology, birdsong,
  4. Music and visual art, from representation to inspiration, ideals.
  5. The workshop; composers to luthiers,
  6. The revolutionary salon; art and ideas, music and politics

There will be films, concerts, recordings, articles, salons, podcasts, and much more, developing my collaborations with institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the hearts of the project, is the idea of the instruments made by the Amati family.

Violin by Girolamo Amati
Cremona 1629 (2nd June 2022)

I will bring two aspects of these instruments that I love, which are key to this project: First of all, their ‘framing’ of natural beauty. It’s impossible to look at the back of this amazing violin, by the generation of this central family of violin-making without noticing, that the first quality which the instrument celebrates, if you will forgive me, is the astonishing wood from which it has been made. The beauty of that wood, of course, rests in its relationship with the environment in which it grew, from the season ebb and flow of tree rings, to the marks of time, the unpredictable, both in its growing and in its wear since it was cut down. I will explore this idea in depth as the project develops. The natural world, and its dialogue with time-passing, is fundamental to a musical instrument like this. The second quality of the Amati instruments, is a more domestic, even homespun one: the sense that from parent to child, these instruments were the product of a family; three, four generations of idealised craftsmanship, of art, within a home environment, and perhaps the sense that this quality is tangible, audible in the instruments.

South of Crewe. Flying north. 3 6 22

But today, we are en route to the Northwest coast, to Morecambe Bay. Malene is with me, as she will be directing the films which we are planning to make working with the two RSPB reserves we are planning to celebrate. We will meet up with the celebrated nature writer, Laurence Rose and composer Edward Cowie, whose extraordinary music, is as he often puts it, a ‘habitat’. It’s just the first step, exploring the extraordinary geography and ecology of the Cumbrian coast, allowing the dialogue between art and environment to emerge, with no agenda. Lets see what happens.

Leighton Moss RSPB 3 6 22

2300 – same day: a day of conversation, ideas, and inspiration. This picture is what it is all about. This is Leighton Moss seen from the observation tower on the Northwest side of the reserve. Immediately that we climbed up, we were greeted by the sight of three Bitterns and a Marsch Harrier. An auspicious beginning for the day, and the project. I will write more about it tomorrow from  the train.

Day Two – Cumbria to London, thinking about yesterday

 

The first important activity was to bring together the core team for this project.  After lunch with Edward, Laurence, and artist Heather Cowie, we went over to Carnforth, to meet up John Carter, the ‘Visitor Experience Manager’ for Leighton Moss Reserve. A fascinating conversation began, on the top of the ‘Skytower’ observation post overlooking the moss.

Themes emerged – overlayering ideas of change and scale, from Tide to Historic Inundations. Migration Eels in their hundreds of thousands, birds, Hen Harriers finding their way to Africa, Mesolithic travellers settling on the Highwater mark, the Norwegian Vikings arriving from Ireland in in 1901… but one overriding them – the relationship between the historic necessity of change ( a reed bed should silt up, become a fertile wooded valley, the wetland moving somewhere else on the coast), balanced with the question of the question of conservation, which by definition, means perserving, artificially this environment, in situ. This idea will mature, develop, and seems to be fundamental to my larger project.

Skytower Conversation – RSPB Leighton Moss – Laurenc Rose, PSS, Heather Cowie, John Carter, Edward Cowie. Photo Malene Skaerved 2 6 22

One of the most remarkable things about the conversation, was that it took place in a most wonderful counterpoint with nature. Whilst the excited talk, all ideas and possibilities, was barreling along, the wildlife mounted a spectacular display. Three Bitterns, wrose from the reed beds, and swept to and from over the Moss. I had never seen one of these extraordinary, booming waders before, and had never thought what they would look like in flight. At the same moment, a yellow-headed female Hen Harrier hovered over her nest site, almost directly beneath the observation tower: conversation turned to the feeding/display flights of these birds. I was, embarrassed to admint that I had no idea that these birds were so large, as big as the Red Kites I know so well from the Chalk hills of the south, but more muscular, energetic.

One of the most important aspects of my work with the RSPB has been the mantra ‘It’s not only about birds.’ That will be so important here, and perhaps this contrapuntal feeling, ideas finding their way in and around the screaming chit-chat of acrobatic gulls, the wonder of a droplet of water poised on a bulrush rlflecting the myriad colours of an ever-changing sky, is a model for the music, the art, the writing, the film, which will emerge from the project (large and small). I will return to these themes.

Geology, and botany in action, The Cove, Silverdale, 3 6 22

The next stage of the day of discovery and ideas was Hest Bank, just north of the town of Morecamb, and then The Cove ,  Silverdale. There are many binary aspects to this landscape. Perhaps the most powerful of them, is  – Fresh- or ‘Salt – water’. The wetlands of Leighton Moss are protected from the tides of Morecambe bay by manmade sea defences.

A moment to think. Hest Bank, Morecambe Bay (Photo Malene Skaerved) 3 6 22

Standing on the rocky beach at Silverdale, we wer lookig across the tidal wonder of the bay, and at the highwater mark, there’s a sense of the liminal nature of this littoral environment. Heather Cowie and got down into the mud, and explored  the constant erosion and sedementation, and the spectacular intersect between plantlife – from seaweed, throught to saltwater-tolerant Samphire and Sea Thrift. For both Heather and I, as artists, the sense of horizon is so important. Talking about her paintings the next day, Malene noticed that, however far they evoke landscape there is an evermorphing fascinating with point of view – be it from head height, ground-level or from beneath the water. Heather’s most recent cycle of paintings is particularly associated with this environment, so her sense proved so inspiring, on the ground.

 

New work by Heather Cowie- much of it inspired by Morecambe Bay 4 6 22

From wetland, to shoreline, to tidal estuary. The last stop to watch and think was at by the River Kent at Arnside. The tide was on the ebb now, and perhaps this was the place that feels most like home. Whilst Malene and I are city dwellers, we live right next to the Thames at its most dramatically tidal. Ebb and flow, the effect of the tide on the our environment, is our everyday, and I suspect, that it will offer another layer of dialogue for this project.

Larger narratives: Clouds and mountains over Patterdale and Ambleside, looking from the bank of the River Kent 3 6 22

 

Day 3 – Sunday June 5th 2022 Wapping

Today I had to turn my attention to the programme that I will be playing this week on two Amati violins from 1572 and 1529 in Brussels, an an upcoming conversation at the famous Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in the Belgian capital. The programme ‘The Violin Begins’ stretches from the earliest solo works for the instrument, from the 1580s to 1710, a decade before the great solo works of JS Bach. Here it is:

Giovanni Bassano (ca. 1550-1617)             Ricercata Ottava (Ricercata/Passagi et Cadentie 1585)

Biaggio Marini (1594-1663)                          Sonata per il violin solo semplice & Capriccio per sonare il violino con tre corde à modo di Lira (Pub.1618)

Thomas Baltzar (1630-1663)                        Four Tunings (Scordatura AEac#)

Nicola Matteis (fl. c. 1670 – 1717?)           G Major Prelude (1676)

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704)   D Major Rosenkranz-Sonate ‘Auffindung im Tempel’(Scordatura Adad) (ca. 1680)

Le Sieur de Machy (fl. 1655–1700)            Menuet, Courante et Double (Pièces de Violle en Musique et en Tablature) (Publ. 1685)

Anonymous/Klagenfurt MS (ca.1685)      G Minor Suite (Scordatura GDad)

Giuseppe Torelli (1658 – 1709)                   E minor Prelude (Publ. 1700)

Johann Joseph Vilsmayr                              G minor Partia (‘Artificiosus Concentus pro Camera’) (Scordatura GDad) (Publ. 1715)

Balancing these pieces, works written for me by composers during the 2020-2021 Lockdowns.

All sorts of typologies are playing themselves out in my head, between the old works and the very new, between the forms of instruments and the forms of pieces, between the forms of the natural world and the forms of all of mankind’s creations. Naturally enough the extraordinary impact of the past two days in Cumbria is still making itself felt – I found myself recording two of the earliest composers on this programme with images from two vantages by Morecambe Bay in mind.

At the back of my mind, an observation made by composer Edward Cowie, who occupies a unique vantage point as both a musical creator of genius, as well as a scientist, artist and writer. He is always, a veritable fountain of ideas. When we sat down for the first conversations at his home at Fell End, Cumbria on Friday, he immediately said:

‘Lets think about insects as the inventors of instruments. It is clear that there is a direct link between the ectoskeletal inverterbrates-their means of making noise, both with the chambers of their bodies, and, quite literally, ‘playing’ the body – think of the grasshopper scratching it’s wing edges with the serrated back legs – bow and string – and the invention of string instruments – both of them carapaces.

Immediately the conversation swung into the classical greek notion of Orpheus using the tortoise shell to make the lyre, and then the fact that native-american instruments not only imitate the sound of the animals, but also their appearance. It’s not a huge leap to see that the side view of a violin, is linked to that of a tortoise or terrapin – and not surprising that in pre-CITES days, tortoiseshell was so sought-after in the decoration of instruments, and in a number of cases, their complete manufacture.

An Andrea Amati violin, like the one I am playing in Belgium on Friday, stands at the moment that the instrument emerged into unity, that all these ideas crystallised, perfectly, for the first time, into an instrument that would not need fundamental change for, so far, nearly half a millenium. The exploration of these links, between the symbolism and sound of the instrument, and the natural world which not only to they imitate, but which provide the precious materials for their manufacture and maintenance, is, clearly at the heart of Knowledge Exchange Violin!

Memory: Strange Light on the horizon/when at sea 6 6 22

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow, I turn to the Revolutionary French aspect of this project: this links specifically to two institutions: the world’s oldest museum – the Ashmolean in Oxford, and the great Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota. What, you might ask, are the links to the themes emerging from your project. To which I offer this-all will be made clear:

Monday June 6th 2022 – Revolution: Science & Art

Here is the frontispiece of Volume 1 of ‘Révolution française, ou Analyse complette et impartiale du Moniteur’ 1799. It’s one of my favourite finds, rooting about in junk shops. Volume one is a day by day chronicle of political, diplomatic, social, scientific, literary and artistic events in and around France from 1789-1791.

Dedication: to the body politic, to the sciences, and to the arts frontispiece of Volume 1 of ‘Révolution française, ou Analyse complette et impartiale du Moniteur’ 1799As the engraving that begins this book makes clear, Art and Science were, necessarily, contrapuntal, interdependent. The Cithara on the left, needs the Euclidian and Pythagorean geometry at the right. In every age, political revolutions have engaged with the question of how the sciences and arts should ( or should not) be fundamental to every aspect of life, and with each other. The musicians and artists who were part of the revolutionary age, on whatever side, were fascinated with nature. William Wordsworth was in Paris in 1789, Viotti (a Rousseau-ean idealist chased from France in 1790, but then sought out by the Napoleonic establishment), was the epitome of the Zeitgeist, and found inspiration and ideas, like Stephanie de Genlis, Elisabeth Vigee-le Brun, in the countryside.

And so, my project, which seeks out these links, will reach out to Revolutionary France, through one very particular violin (of which more later), and through my collaboration with the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The Institute has a wonderful collection of Parisian Fashion journals from the 1790s, theJournal de la mode et du goot, ou Amusemens du salon et de la toilette’. These weekly magazines, informed the readers of how to where (and NOT to wear) the fashion of the day (quite literally), and what to play and sing, and how to sing it. Today I begin work on the music (published, alongside the fashion plates), with two great colleagues, the singer Héloïse Bernard, and my long-time collaborator – Keyboardist and musical inventor, Julian Perkins. The recordings will form part of the exhibition which opens in Minneapolis in the Autumn\ More to follow, after our rehearsal.

 

Later the same day; back from rehearsal in Julian Perkins’ harpsichord room at home in East Dulwich. Upon arrival, there was a rather abrupt switch into Italian.   Julian’s in-laws were over from Italy, and I found myself lurching into a conversation about ‘il tempo terribile Inglese’ with this delightful couple. Thank goodness, Julian handed an espresso which sped things up: it’s been a while.  And then, to work-we will be joined by our soprano for the project, Heloise Bernard, soon (Easyjet had put paid to her plans of joining us from Edinburgh!). But today was a chance to establish some parameters for how these delightful pieces, perfect little miniatures, will work in our re-imagined salon. The conversations, vital for working on this music, stretched to the cult of nature, the influence of Mozart. and the ever fascinating world of juggling parts and voicings, as well as the joy of elaboration, ornamentation, which is the Julian and my shared fascination. I think, that my favourite of the songs, by an anonymous ‘demoiselle’ was the simplest: ‘Pauvre Jacques’. And the sound of the salons of pre-and post revolutionary France, begins to reemerge.

Concentration: Julian Perkins and I begin work on a wonderful project of 18th Century French music, for Minneapolis Institute of Art. 6 6 22 East Dulwich

This evening, I have been idling my way throught the list of pieces in the Jefferson Family collection ( listed in the back of Helen Cripe’s ‘Thomas Jefferson and Music’ University of Press of Virginia, 1974). The reason was that, in the course of our rehearsal today, Julian Perkins and I had the most powerful impression that Maria Hadfield/Cosway and Thos. Jefferson were the the room, playing and singing the the Sacchini Aria they loved (‘Jour Heureux’). So this evening, I pulled the book down from the shelf, as I felt I should read the list of sheet music: Pp.121-2 ‘Pauvre Jaque’ [sic] …Song with pianoforte accompaniment’  etc. , which led me to Jeanne-Renée de Bombelles Travanet, and the possible source of the words, Marie Antoinette. On the road for the next few days, with Vigee-le Brun’s ‘Souvenirs’.

Tuesday 7th June 2022 London – Bruxelles

I have been thinking more about the intersect between the natural world and the arts overnight. A few weeks ago, I was lying in a field on the Ridgeway, in the Chilten Hills, waiting to record the ‘Chaconne’ by Mihailo Trandavilovski. In the village hall, just down the hill from the grassy bank where I was lying, the great clarinetist Roger Heaton was finishing up his recording of Trandafilovski’s solo piece. It was a perfect warm spring day, and every bird seemed to be singing. The arching phrases and barely-there high clarinet notes found their way, naturally, into the symphony of bird song, and then were joined my the call of a huge Red Kite, hunting in the sky over where I was lying. Fortunately, I was able to record it. Here it is:

June 8th 2022 – Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Bruxelles

Today, a day to wonder about this marvellous city (in the pouring rain), and to let its themes and ideas find their way in. I am, very much an enthusiast for cities, and there was much to explore, walking with Malene and my long-time collaborator, the composer Nigel Clarke, who lives here. In a day of remarkable things, I was most struck by this.

Pulpit, St Michaels and St Guluda Cathedral, Brussels 9 6 22

This extraordinary pulpit, was carved by Hendrik Frans Verbruggen ( 1654 – 1724) in 1699. It reaches back and forth, from the world of art, philosophy and religion, to the natural world, and its influence (and imitation), which is so central to my project. It also fits into the centre of the concert which I will give tomorrow night here, in Brussels, and the aesthetic, questions which 17th century instruments and instrument-making address. The pulpit depicts, Adam and Eve, fallen from grave, clad in skins, being driven from Eden by the angel with a flaming sword, and, behind Even, who is still holding on to the apple, Death. The structure of the pulpit is the tree of knowledge, and the serpent winds up and around it, to the top over the sounding board. There, it is is trampled by Mary, riding her crescent moon, but referencing the passage from the Revelation of St John:

 

12 Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. 2 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron (Revelation, 12, 1-5, King James Bible)

The tree reaches from earth to heaven, like the Yggdrasil, in Viking mythology:

The ash is of all trees the biggest and the best. Its branches spread out over the world and extend across the sky. Three of the tree’s roots support it and extend very, very far. (In Gylfaginning/Prose Edda Chapter 15 Snorri Sturluson)

It is this linking, from heaven to earth, from hight to low, from worldly to the heavenly, from art to nature, which seems to be driving the project. Then back ‘home’  to Woluwe-Saint-Lambert. and practice for tomorrow’s concert.

Today’s practice desk. Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Bruxelles. Tomorrows event – Music from 1580-1700, plus, Sadie Harrison, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Naji Hakim, David Gorton Evis Sammoutis, Hafliði Hallgrímsson. Salon concert tomorrow 8 6 22

Brussels – 9th June 2022

An extraordinary day. It began with a visit to the wonderful Brussels Musical Instrument Museum, where I met with the Anne-Emmanuelle Ceulemans, the Curator of musical instruments, and Joris de Valck, restorer.

Exploring Girolamo Amati with Joris de Valck and Anne Emmanuelle Ceulemans, at MIM Bruxelles, 9 6 22

I am fascinated by different approaches to the presentation of musical instruments in museums. These range, at opposite ends, from the playing collections of the Library of Congress, Washington DC to the silent ones, including the Hill Collection at the Ashmolean Museum and this museum. There is an unfortunate tendency for musicians to be  dismissive of collections which they cannot play, as if there is nothing to be learnt, that they offer them nothing. This is clearly nonsense, as was demonstrated today.

I particularly wanted to meet the 1610 ‘Brothers’ Amati violin, which is one of the stars of the collection. This, I hoped would be a recognisable sibling of the the 1629 example which I play (made just before the composer’s death in the catastrophic outbreak of Bubonic Plague in Lombardy 1629-30). As soon as I saw the instruments together, the kinship was obvious, and conversation started to flow, about the qualities of these instruments: what is it that draws us, as players and audiences were drawn from the 1570s onwards, to the instruments made by Andrea, Girolamo and Nicolo Amati?

This most obvious thing, as soon as we saw the two instruments together, is that the wood choice and surviving ground of the front of

he insturments have much in common. As soon as the purfling was compared the same hand became ovious. The exciting differences are to be found in the wood selected and the treatment of respective backs of the instruments. They are both ‘one-piece’ but there there are more differences to be observed. If one was imagining that these two instruments were made, each for sets of instruments kept as treasures in a collection then, I might go as far as saying that each might represent a different passion, a different ‘affect’ even a different humour.

Together Girolamo Amati both. on the ;eft, 1610, on the right, 1629. MIM Bruxelles 9 6 22

So, it is probably a good idea, to answer the question, ‘why Amati’? There are many answers to this question, and those answers raise yet more questions. So I will begin with the most subjective answer. In the near-decade, that my work has focused on the instruments made by the first three generations of this family, I have come to the conclusion, that the reason for my love of their instruments is that the most all-envelopping understanding of the violins made by Andrea, Girolamo and Nicolo, is that they feel and sound, as if the were made in, and celebrate, the atmosphere of the home. That is not to say that there is anything domestic about the instruments, but rather that, unlike (from experience), the overwhelming impression of the work of Antonio Stradivari, epitomised in Dyrden’s ‘Ode to Cecelia’s description of the violin, Amati instruments begin from a fundamentally generous spirit.

   Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion,

         For the fair, disdainful dame. (A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687 – John Dryden)

Our ever-welcoming host in Brussels has been my dear friend, long-time collaborator, and musical brother, composer Nigel Clarke. We met as undergraduate students at the Academy and evolved a working method, of exploration and adventure, which is, if I am honest, the foundation for projects like this one. We will be recording his latest work for me (our third concerto collaboration), with the Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Vienna this summer. He and his wife, Stella an their inspiring sons, Joshua and Emil, have been our home from home here in Belgium. Having Nigel along at a beginning of a voyage of discovery, like the meeting with the team at the MIM, is always inspiring – he stands back, watches, learns, and then comes up with a brilliant idea, a left-field suggestion, which can, and often does, set a project on fire. The most important thing that we have learnt to do, is a term coined by my friend, the anthropologist, Genevieve Bell: ‘Deep Hanging Out.’ So, perhaps the most important part of the day was sitting at a pavement cave, with coffee and a croissant, with Nigel, talking, and waiting to see what might happen.

Composer Nigel Clarke. Morning 9 6 22, Bruxelles

Funnily enough, the building that we were looking, coffee in hand would find its way into the evening event. It, and the concert, speaks to the question of travelling musicians, music, and instruments across Europe from the end of the Renaissance onwards. Right next to the Museum, stands the Hotel Cleves-Ravenstein, or rather the remains of it- and extraordinary memory of the lost glory of 15th century, and a link, tenuous indeed to the music of the Bassano familly, which began my concert later in the day.

Hotel de Kleve-Ravenstein, BrusseLS 9 6 22

I began the concert/salon at ‘Full Circle’ that evening, with a piece by one of the Venetian Bassano family of instrument makers and composers. Some of them came to London to play at the wedding of Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves, whose family built this home at the end of the 1400s. This theme, of the relationship betwee the travel of music, instruments and musicians, is one of the fundamentals of my explorations.

One of the sitting rooms of Full Circle, which would be filled with conversation after my concert in the theatre there 9 6 22

After the concert, excited conversation began, as so often, around the instruments. There is no musical instrument, and indeed, very few human artefacts, that excite more fascination and excitement than a violin. So often these post-concert discussions are where so much happens. In Brussels, the combination of musicians, writers, violin makers, painters and thinkers made for a particularly inspiring, and for me, even heady brew of ideas.

Post concert discussion. Full Circle, Brussels 9 6 22 Photo Malene Skaerved

Denmark 10-14th June 2020

Taking the boat from Fyn to Skarø 11 6 22

These past four days have been an opportunity to travel slowly, to talk, to think, and watch. Malene and I continued our journey north from Brussels by train – via Cologne, Hamburg to Odense. One of the themes, of Knowledge Exhange, is movement: of people, of animals, of music, of instruments, of ideas… the train journey to the Danish border heated up the ideas, in a similar way to standing on the fringes of Morecambe Bay a few days ago: not least because that area of Northwest England was, and is, extra-Danish – as Vikings who were driven out of Ireland came there and had to negotiate with the ruling Danes, who had established their power base in York/Yorvik. With regard to the train journey, from Hamburg to the Lillebælt, I the porous nature of the definition of the land, as German or Scandinavian, or even Flemish, is best witnessed in the train depots on either side of the border. A sad little old  Deutsche Bahn shunter, still hard at work  at Haderslev, and not for DSB, many kilometres north of the border at Padborg, made that point eloquently.

DB Köf II Shunter 11 6 22

Looking at this, as our DSB train ambled past, I thought about the 17th Century piece I played the night before, in Brussels – on a Lombardy-build 16th Century Violin, which had found its way to Paris by the 1600s: Thomas Baltzar, arrived in the UK during the Commonwealth, established himself as the greatest violinst in London, dominated the returning  Charles II’s Private Musick. and was dead by 1663. In London, he was, known (as we know from the diarist John Evelyn, as ‘The Lubicker’). Today, we blithely think of this as a German City, but of course, for most of its history it was no such thing, and during the upheavals of the 17th century, Baltzar’s time, after its status as a Hanseatic city had declined, it was variously dominated by Denmark and Sweden, and would be part of the territory claimed by Denmark up till the two Slesvig-Kriger of 1848 and 1864. Indeed, other Lübeck-born migrants to the UK in teh 17th century – there are graves in the Wren church of St James Garlickhythe, were regarded as Danish…although they most likely spoke Danish and German.

Our first stop in Denmark was in Fyn. This is so important to Malene, as this is where she grew up, but also the home of the writer most important to her; the greatest traveller of all storytellers, Hans Christian Andersen. Both she and I have a real sense, that when you walk Ramsherred, and Bangs Boder the poor streets where he grew up, that he is all around. Whether or not the building today celebrated as ‘H C As Hus’, actually is, we both have the sense, that if we peer into the windows, lean on the wall, that he will look back at us, that connection might be made, and it is that connection that we all seek.

Malene Sheppard Skaerved, den Fynske pige, udenfors HCA s hus, i Odense 11pm 11 6 22

The next day, though, it would be nature that would be overwhelming. The next morning, another train, the type that Danes (not so affectionately) call ‘en bumletog’ (‘Bummelzug’ in Deutsch), south to the port of Svendborg, and then a tiny ferry to the even tinier island of Skarø (2 km square, and home to ten families) for a family celebration.

Erractic Boulder on the north facing beach of Skarø 11 6 22

Once again, walking the shoreline of this exquisite island, we found ourselves in a glacial landscape. Though, Denmark is almost nothing but. Every pebble, every rock that you see, with the exception of the chalk cliffs on the south east coast of Lolland/Falster, has been rolled from somewhere else, every pebble is, like the rock about, an erratic boulder. At Leighton Moss a conversation evolved about whether there was any real difference in ‘earth-time’ between tidal events, once-in-a-century-odd landscape-altering events, like tsunami’s or  catastrophic inundations, small tides, like in-and-out breathing, and perhaps, the grinding down of landscapes, a and the scattering of giant granite pebbles from the north by the two kilometre-high ice sheets of the Ice Ages. Talking to a painter after the concert, she spoke of her realisation that the landscape that she loved the most, the Alps, was in motion, like a rought see, and spoke of beginning to ‘see’ that motion.

Hare. warned of my approach by an Oystercatcher. Skarø 11 6 22

And, finding my way across a meadow at the western tip of the island, I was screamed at by an oystercatcher, whose, insistence alerted a huge hare to my presence. It first dropped its ears and laid low in the knee high grass, and then bolted, with the Oystercatcher still screaming blue murder, until I cleared the site. Meanwhile, I was assailed by Skylarks from knee height to the stratospheric. It’s all a reminder that birds taught us to sing, and provided endless inspiration for composers of very age and every culture. Here’s Edward Cowie’s skylark – the closest a violin piece has come to the sound and fury of this fearless animal.

At the heart of everything that I do, is an overwhelming, and sometimes difficult, faith in humanity. There’s nothing that I love more that watching people, along, talking, moving, still, happy, sad. There is an intimate grandeur to be found there, and it inspires me every day. Returning to Copenhagen, after three years away, gave me great opportunity to indulge in my people-watching, and to be reminded how central they are to the work of the artist.

Waiting for coffee .Vesterport June 13 2022

Malmo 16th June 2022

Over the next few days, the ideas which have been gathering since the visit to Leighton Moss have continued to gather, in concert, if you like with the evolving counterpoints between the natural and manmade worlds around which my Knowledge Exchange project is building. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the astonishing painted Krämarkapellet (1460-1510) in Sankt Petri kyrka, which, when it was built in the 1300s was the biggest town church in Skåne (then Denmark). All of the figures, many of them holding musical instruments, are woven about with leaves and vines. In an analogous way, the natural materials of string instruments are set in formal, architectural decorations…

Troubadour in the astonishing painted Krämarkapellet /Sankt Petri Kyrka 15 6 22

And, after an idyllic day by Øresund, the ideas start to coalesce around another important point of focus, the body, as my conversations with Bradley Strauchen-Scherer at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City. She, and that museum have been a vital inspiration in this inception and develpment of my project. Here’s just a glimpse of some of the work that I have already done with that institution  as simple concert/talk given on two of their historic instruments, both by Antonio Stradivari, and each one in different setups.

On my return to the Metropolitan Museum after the interregnum of Covid-19, our conversations began to focus on the links between musical instruments and the human body. This is a complex and foundational idea for instrumental music, that all instruments offer analogy for the human form (internal and external). Obviously, this also relates to the body (any animal body) as a noise, song or speech producing instrument and the instruments as alternatives, even, maybe, as avatars, for that interweave.

German viola d’amore, ca 1700. Metropolitan Museum

I have lost count of the number of times, that I have reminded myself that the ‘naming of parts’ of the violin, is key to this relationship. Violins, violas, viols, cellos, basses, have heads, necks, shoulders, ribs, backs, bellies. Sitting in my hotel room here in Malmö, Sweden, I had an hours-long zoom conversation with Bradley, in New York, as we began our preparations for my return to the Metropolitan Museum, in August, for Knowledge Exchange. The conversation, as it always is with Ms Strauchen-Scherer, was enlightening, and surprisig. She reminded me that René Descartes described the organ, as image for for the workings of the human body.

‘You can think of our machine’s heart and arteries, which push the animal spirits into the cavities of its brain, as being like the bellows of an organ, which push air into the wind-chests; and you can think of external objects, which stimulate certain nerves and cause spirits contained in the cavities to pass into some of the pores, as being like the fingers of the organist, which press certain keys and cause the air to pass from the wind-chests into certain pipes. Now the harmony of an organ does not depend on the externally visible arrangement of the pipes or on the shape of the wind-chests or other parts. The functions we are concerned with here does not depend at all on the external shape of the visible parts which anatomists distinguish in the substance of the brain, or on the shape of the brain’s cavities, but solely on three factors: the spirits which come from the heart, the pores of the brain through which they pass, and the way in which the spirits are distributed in these pores.’ (Treatise on Man,” 166)

This lead to a conversation about the interior of musical instruments, of vibrating air, of breath, and I remembered the link between breath and fire. We talked about ‘prana’ the Sanskrit word for breath, “life force”, or life itself. The Vibrations within string and wind instruments rely on this vibration breath, as much as the operation of the human body. I remembered something that seemed important, that the Danish for ‘oxygen’ is ‘ilt’. The Danish ‘Ild’ translates as ‘fire’. This seems terribly important, in this moment.

The extraordinary viola d’amore shown here is one of the instruments which this project will explore at the ‘Met’. There’s such a lot to say about this. I will leave just one idea here. The instrument is almost ‘flat’, as it has no ribs, and the back is afixed directly to the belly. This means that it is very quiet. The only question that I would like to answer now is: ‘why?’.  What is the quality of soft music, playing, voices, that is so important, perhaps more now than ever, this noisy age?

A place to practise. In my hotel room in Malmo 16 6 22

Over the next few days, the various institutions involved in Knowledge Exchange Violin will start to figure more and more in this journal. However, to finish today’s entry, I would like to introduce an important element in the exploration of the various instruments who make up this project – the compositional response.

American composer Michael Alec Rose and I have collaborated intensely since we were introduced by the great George Rochberg shortly before he died. Our collabrations have involved deep dives into landscapes, painting, sculpture, spaces and much more. Michael has started a group of miniatures responding to the instruments and ideas in this project. Here’s a tantalising (I think) glimpse of one of these, ‘Rode Trip’. Watch this space!

Detail of Michael Ale Rose ‘Rode Trip’ For Knowledge Exchane Violin. 2022

Over the past few weeks, Michael and I have talked intently as to the nature of his response to the instruments and places in’ Knowledge Exchange Violin’. In addition, our collaboration provides a geological omphalos to the project, as, at the beginning of October, we will travel together to Utah to develop out shared work on his suite for violin – ‘Sedimental Education: A Stratigraphic Suite for Solo Violin’. Michael writes:

“In October of 2022, Peter Sheppard Skærved and I will make our way together to Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park, one of my sacred places in the world. There, we will carry onto higher ground our two decades of on-site collaborations celebrating various landscapes and artistic venues. This latest round of our performer-composer research takes us into deep geological time. At Capitol Reef, on the trail up to Chimney Rock, a visitor grasps 100 million years of Earth’s history all at once in the exposed layers of Triassic and Jurassic rock. For me, witnessing the compact vastness of these multi-colored strata feels close to the experience of Peter Sheppard Skærved’s violin playing: generations of instrument making, performance practice, and compositional expression are not only exposed, but in due time are made radiantly clear and mutually illuminating. It is a sedimental education. That’s the substance and the spirit of my six-movement suite for Sheppard Skærved.” (MAR June 14 2022)

This will not be the first time that Michael and will use walking as a tool for composition and collaboration. Michaels cycle ‘Il Ritorno’ was the

With Michael Alec Rose on Hayne Down, Dartmoor 30 11 13

result of just such an exploration, our personal psychogeography, of the great granite plate of Dartmoor, in South West England. This project brought together the walk, talking, writing, composing and drawing, and the result is a luminous celebration of human in the landscape, of water and rock, tree and lichen, life and death.