Title: Eternity in an hour

Year: 2019

Program note:

I

II Existential Interlude 1: ‘It is what it is…’

III

IV Existential Interlude 2: ‘…at the end of the day’

V Aria: ’the omnipotent God’

Eternity in an hour is the second part of my orchestral cycle Time and Eternity. As the title (taken from a line in William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence) implies I am interested in the paradoxical possibility that ‘eternity’ – an extraordinary state of ‘non-time’ – could exist, might sometimes suddenly appear, within the flow of time which defines our normal experience of being alive. I think that is what William Blake is getting at when he says:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

Each line conveys immensity contained within the minuscule, the emergence of the remarkable from the ordinary, the transcendence of the quotidian: the potential ecstasy of a shift in perception. Sometimes music can offer this too, but one can’t really deliberately put that into a piece of music. After all, any such perceptual shift depends more, I think, upon the state of the experiencer than the inherent qualities of the object of experience. It might happen, it might not. Like seeing a Kingfisher when you take a walk by the river. You just have to be in the right place at the right time, and keep your eyes (and ears) open. Good luck!

The other aspect of this piece is more existential, maybe a little less optimistic too. The other side of the coin I suppose. For some time i’ve been collaborating with writer Chris Goode on a possible future opera. In June 2017 we had some initial workshops, and though we decided not to take that material any further at the time (we’ve started again from scratch this year), some of the scenes have been stuck in my head ever since. The chorus ‘At the end of the day’ has become movements II and IV, while the soprano aria ‘The omnipotent God’ has become movement V. Though the new orchestrations are without singers, the ghosts of the words still hover behind the music. So it’s worth knowing that the words from which these pieces grew were not made up, they were extracted and edited from interviews with ‘real people’ about their thoughts and feelings, their hopes, dreams and fears.

At the end of the day [source text for movements II and IV]

it is what it is
at the end of the day

it is what it is
and there’s just no changing it

unless God can change them

angry’s not going to change it

Who am I going to be angry at?                                                                                                                         At the end of the day

who?

The omnipotent God [source text for movement V]

all the stuff they tell you at school
I mean the thing about the omnipotent God
the one that watches you whatever you do
I had in my mind translated       um        as a child         into                                                                      that there is kind of people with cameras in
in the walls everywhere

and that you’re constantly sort of on record and constantly on film.

By the time I        I was a teenager,
I found that quite oppressive!
I think that was the thing that really made me question it.                                                                                You know, is this really

Constantly feeling sc-…

Under scrutiny             as it were.