Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Bliss – The Beatitudes – Conception II


After the negativity thrown before him and his self-admitted loss of inspiration and direction, things began to pick up for Bliss – much, it has to be said, thanks to the continued support of Christopher Hassall.

In November Bliss was requesting, and received, the short Latin Easter Hymn, 'Haec Dies quam feci! Dominus exultemus et laetemur in ea Hallelujah' [This is the day that the Lord made: let us be glad and rejoice in it], which he interweaves with George Herbert's 'I got me flowers'.

Feeling much better about the whole thing but still having problems, Bliss wrote to Hassall airing the following:

I have finished - in sketch form - the music down to the end of 'The Call' on your page 3. The timing is already 25 minutes, without the short orchestral introduction to the whole work, and I still have 5 Beatitudes, 3 poems and an Epilogue [the Taylor prayer] to squeeze in!!!”

Squeezing in left over Beatitudes around Dylan Thomas, smoothing out ‘The Muse’, breaking mirrors to create the “absolute necessity of contrasts of mood” all caused something of a log-jam. This was finally broken by wrapping the four remaining Beatitudes – merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted into one, following a violent orchestral interlude and before the Dylan Thomas – ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’.

Interestingly, Bliss did not include Thomas’ first verse considering it “too raw” for the desired mood.

He was getting close and could feel the excitement of it. Updating Hassall, Bliss wrote:

“Just after the last Beatitude and immediately before the Jeremy Taylor Epilogue I feel the need for a short angry chorus - the roar of a crowd out for trouble (The crowd will then suddenly be stilled by the [tenor soloist's] words "O Blessed Jesu").”

In mid-August he wrote: 

I am writing an orchestral 'Prelude' that leads straight into the choral setting of [Henry Vaughan's] 'The Mount of Olives' - this Prelude will be disturbed and anxious and will express the World troubled and anguished but from this 'agitato' [the score actually marks the Prelude ‘Allegro Violento’] will arise the quiet cool chorus chords of 'Sweet, sacred hill’.”

Something was missing – he needed a piece of text to head up the Prelude – something from the metaphysical poets – a one liner to describe a ‘rent world’ is what he asked of Hassall.

Hassall's reply exemplifies the lengths to which he went to support Bliss and for which Bliss was so grateful:

“…about the Prelude to [The Beatitudes] and the Quotation; I have gone through Donne and Vaughan, also Beddoes. In the latter (in an unfinished poem called 'Doomsday') comes the line:

'World, wilt thou yield thy spirit up and be convulsed and die?'

In 'The Storm' (Donne) comes:

'All things are one, and that one none can be, so that we, except God say another Fiat, shall have no more day'.”

We, except God say another Fiat, shall have no more day became the phrase believed to capture the essence of the work’s Prelude a troubled world.

[Left - John Donne (19 June 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English metaphysical poet, satirist, lawyer and Protestant priest.]

Bliss was complete – The Beatitudes had become a work of powerful contrasts.

The contrasts which Bliss was so keen to bring out in The Beatitudes have a moral as well as musical dimension. To add context, these are Bliss’ words about Beethoven with which he significantly chose to close his autobiography:

'…all Beethoven's music is a continual protest against the cruelty, misery and evil in this world, but he does, after a lifetime's struggle, supply an answer in the music of his last period, envisaging a world of compassion and serenity’.

The assertion of faith, healing and serenity that underlies The Beatitudes acquires meaning for Bliss precisely because it emerges victor in that very protest and struggle against 'the cruelty, misery and evil in this world’.


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