Our ears have become so conditioned by the ubiquitous nature of sonata form – organic development, the linear structuring of ideas – that it’s almost impossible to hear any piece, even a modern one, without this template at the back of one’s mind. The idea that a piece is ‘goal-driven’, that it moves towards a telos, or final cause, is one we take for granted for much of the classical repertoire.
In earlier music this wasn’t the case, and I’ve always enjoyed the Frescobaldi Toccatas as examples of a different way to arrange musical ideas. These freewheeling and virtuosic pieces have a fresh and unpredictable quality about them; a looseness of form in which emotions are explored through varying textures and passages without the need for an overarching logic that binds the music as a totality. Much of life is experienced as a series of events without a start or end, why should music not be the same at times?
A few years ago I wrote a long guitar piece that was influenced by earlier lute music. I was never satisfied with it and it remained unperformed. Last year Rody van Gemert asked to look at this piece, and his enthusiasm for the music set me rewriting the whole work. The result is the third piece I’ve written which is related to the legend of Daphne and Apollo. The first was Sing, Memory (guitar and harpsichord) then the short Daphne Prelude (guitar) and now the new solo guitar work, Apollo Toccate.
Apollo Toccate is in nine sections and is a through-composed piece with its own unfolding structure; it lasts around 15 minutes. It’s also possible for any number of the nine sections to be played in any order, and so shorter readings are also valid. I like the idea of a disrupted chronology, of forms that unfold without causality. This is not new in music, and in the past Boulez influenced me with pieces like Domaines (for clarinet and ensemble).
Rody will premiere a selection of sections from Toccate in February – at the new Guitar Salon in Helsinki, run by Uwe Florath – and later in the year he’ll perform the whole piece for the first time. Although it’s melodic the work is long and complex and I’ve relied on suggestions and solutions from Rody that make the piece challenging rather than impossible. Without his help and detailed feedback this music would never have found its way to the concert hall.