At the moment when all our lives changed and every concert in my diary was cancelled I lost interest in the music I was writing. I will come back to it, of course, when circumstances alter for the better, but it seemed pointless to work towards deadlines that had just evaporated.
Instead I wrote a piece for solo vibraphone, An extraordinary mildness, for Claire Edwardes. I also started to think about an ensemble piece that had been forming in my head for a few weeks. The music is more or less finished, although some details are developing as I copy the score, and it’s called Trace. There are three duos, who can play the music as a duo, all together as a sextet, or in any of the three possible quartet combinations.
The music is made up of a sequence of melodic figures that move around randomly but within defined limits – up and down by one or two steps each time, no note recurring within any three steps – a sort of Brownian motion. All six instruments have versions of this motion, the beginnings of each melodic figure being more together than the end, and the same principle applying to the piece as a whole. Twice in each instrument’s part they jump to a different version of the melodic sequence.
The music’s title has acquired a topical significance since I first thought of it and the idea of musical mutation and instrumental species-jumping also seem rather closer to being a metaphor for a proliferating virus than I had intended. The good news is that most versions of the melodic sequence become less active and one of them almost dies out. Music as prophecy? I hope so.