A Musical Wanderer - a tale - Part 2

" ' I knew immediately that these cards were the key that opened the gates to his journeys and memories. I placed a few cards on the desk and there it was. One card may represent a musical key, but I saw that if you interpreted the card as the tonic triad of that key, as a chord, then two cards side by side were the beginnings of a musical progression. This was all he needed to spark off a journey in music. Which sign went with which key hardly mattered. It was a question of relationship. If I took Capricorn with a moon to be D minor, then this Aquarius with the sun would be A major. (I assumed the relationship to move in fifths.) The cards simply provided a musical idea, I supposed at random.

" ' Yes, you could have three or more cards but just two would be a step on a road. Some chord combinations would be very simple, within a conventional musical scale, others would suggest ancient modes (23) or provide more exotic combinations of harmonies. If he took two cards at random from the pack as a starting point, then two more for the next piece, he would have twelve keys to twelve musical works or movements. I found myself thinking of this potential series of 12, using each chord once only, as an Itinerary. A new term, perhaps, for a greater journey, a full circle. And then a new shuffling of the pack would begin another circuit, another Itinerary through the stations of the stars and days.

" ' Indeed, she had guessed correctly. The cards were his means of navigation, a symbolic map of the landscape of his mind not, I was sure, of fantasy, but of an imagination in which his experiences of the landscapes and encounters of his life became the terms and grammar of the musical language.

" ' This was all he needed. These chords, of course, were merely the starting point. Memory and the mysterious power of creativity that works through our souls just as it works in forming the hills and valleys of our earthly travels, would do the rest. The working of the device depended on all the knowledge and experience of his life.

" ' There had been no sign of any manuscripts. I am sure they exist somewhere. However, as I sat in his room, at his desk with the sound of the waterfall from the dark valley beyond, I felt I would be able to reconstruct his journeys. Looking at those few cards I found I could hear the music coming to life. Melodies grew from the harmonies. The notes became clothed with instrumental sounds.

" ' I am convinced that my work since that visit has been an act of reconstruction rather than original composition, As I have worked I have felt the fragments of a life have been unfolding, detached fragments at first, gradually finding their order. Some episodes are mysterious. I have composed the music but the music has not yet summoned up images or meaning. Others are lucid stories. I know that the first chapter of our composers journal of a pilgrimage is the story of his abandonment of his formal studies. Did he leave Germany, if it was Germany, to cross the mountains in search of sunlight, as so many romantic travellers have done, inspired by the song of the land where the lemons grow? (24)

" ' Or was this first journey a metaphor for the discovery of his new vocation? Beyond these romantic scenes the journey becomes more mysterious - a quest along ancient tracks through the Forest of Unmade Forms. (25) The experiment continues.

" ' If you wish I could supply you with scores of the first seventy one of the stages of the quest. Yes, I have travelled so far with my unknown friend. Has the music become my "vardo?" I have wandered through the south and into the western lands of this island. I am following our composer's footsteps, or the wheels of his caravan, and I feel I have met some of the same people that he encountered, some with messages to pass on, or ways of seeing. As I say, my work is one of reconstruction. It's more than following in his footsteps - I am seeing through his eyes. I sense that he was always looking for something. I still don't know whether there was a fixed object for the quest, but there was certainly a constant desire to go on, to understand something.

" ' I feel I have one more to complete, founded on the difficult augmented fourth relationship, and I will have achieved a greater itinerary, a Septuagint. (26) Pardon my esoteric allusion, it is easy to fall into unnecessary symbolism. Concerning which, I eventually discovered that the painted symbols were not the signs of the zodiac but the traditional images of the twelve tribes of Israel. A friend of mine who has the honour of being a Companion in the Chapter (27) immediately recognised them. Were they a legacy of my travelling friends cabalistic youth, or were these cards, in another dimension of paradise (28), also "the leaves of the tree which are for the healing of the nations (29)

" ' I have never returned to the House on the Border or corresponded with its owner. It was only after I had departed on the slow branch train that I felt sure she had known more than she had spoken. I had certainly felt she had been playing a game with me, if not actually mocking me. Was there something in the strangeness of my visit of an initiation, or of some secret (or curse) being passed to me, as if my apparent discovery of the secret was a contrivance?

" ' I had been too occupied with calculating the number of possible relationships of two randomly chosen chords to react to what she had been saying at the time but as the train left one of the desolate junctions of the marches I found I could hear her voice clearly above the weary work of the engine and the rumble of the track.

" ' "Was there ever an end to his journey, do you imagine?" I seemed to recall her saying, "Do we need an object to our quest? Should we just be travellers, isnt that enough? Shouldn't we simply travel to see clearly, to feel clearly? I seem to remember our friend saying to me so long ago: 'One of the greatest of my teachers, madam, used to remind me when I became too analytical that "some things only retain their power when they remain a mystery, when the unexplained gives them that mysterious 'piquancy.' " ' " ' "


1) Philip Hambly Cipriani Potter (1792-1871) composed an uncertain number of fine symphonies which, unusual for an English composer, are completely up to the minute and can stand happily beside Schubert and Beethoven. Indeed Beethoven met "Botter and thought well of him. Sadly Potter gave up composing and concentrated on his work as Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. Wagner conducted Potters Symphony in G Minor (available in a Musica Brittanica edition) on his visit to England by which time he seemed a ghost from the past. Of all the forgotten figures of the early 19th century Potter seems the most worth reviving, especially now his music is "exempt from time and can be seen as original and new rather than dusty.

2) Matthew Arnold's (1822-1888) "Scholar Gipsy" is a nostalgic interpretaion of the story which he found in Glanvil. (See note 3). Arnold writeswith a sense of regret that he had not had the wildness to followthe scholar himself and have a more romantic poetic career. He continues this mood in "Thyrsis", a lament for his fellow poet Arthur Clough. Vaughan Williams used parts of both poems in his "An Oxford Elegy", perhaps a key to the pervading meaing of the Gipsy/Scholar/Composer tradition.

3) Joseph Glanvil (1636-1680), philosopher and clergyman.

4) Correctly "Tit- Bits" - a journal founded by George Newnes which was published between 1881 and 1984, though its years of greatest popularity were in the first quarter of the century.

5) Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) was a church music composer but he also wrote some of the most intense and sophisticated consort music for viols of the early 17th century. His series of six part fantasies seem, if any thing does, to have a meaning beyond themselves. Each piece is a window into a concise but vivid world. What kind of effect did this music have on the small groupsof musicians who would play them in their private chambers?What effect would they have if performed now in an appropriate setting, surrounded by the memorabilia of their first performers?

6) William Lawes (1602-1645) was the master of the consort style. His fantasies (and "setts" of pieces) are more expansive and full of strange harmonies and depth.

7) Henry Purcell (1659-1695) belongs to a later style of baroque when viols had been replaced by violins. His viol fantasies are a strange throw back to the lost world that Thomas Mace lamented. However it's important to note that the mysterious qulaity of "meaning" that the fantasy tradition had is passed on to a new musical style and Purcell's Trio Sonatas, though quite different in technique, are in the same supposed "tradition." The secret of this music is not one of theory or technique but content and feeling.

8) It may be that Mace is only implying that the old consortmusic created a particular mood rather than claiming that it had actual meaning, though the idea that the fantasies were like "Patheticall Stories" is very striking. I have read more than one writer who finds they have to speak in terms of landscape to describe the unfolding of Lawes'fantasies so there is an inescapable quality of something depicted in these works.

9) Thomas Traherne (Hereford 1634? Teddington 1674) "Centuries of Mediations, 1st Century no. 56: "It is not by going with the feet, but by journeys of the Soul, that we travel thither. Trahernes work, particularly his poems, contain celebrations of the imagination which are influenced by the Hermetic tracts amongst other things. He is a figure associated with the border country but it is grossly misleading to suggest he is in any way influenced by so-called "Celtic Christianity which would have been an unknown quantity in his day. He has his own vision and style based on patristic theology, Hermetica (a little), Ficino and, in particular, on his own experiences of the religious controversy of his times. He was trained under the Protectorate and a priest under the restored monarchy. He had to argue the theology with himself and became a firm Anglican.

10) Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) wrote astonishing violin sonatas that explore all manner of meaning and expression. His famous "Rosary" sonatas depict the 15 stations of the Rosary, but his other 1681 sonatas, though in theory abstract, have as much of a sense of meaning as the Rosary sonatas. If I were to posit a "tradition" offantasy writing, or music with hidden meaning, Biber would be a key figure. As I think the story suggests the music may createmeaning as much as it attempts to convey an intended meaning. The music is a means of exploration of what could be called the "imaginal world", or the impersonal imagination in which our personal memories and images are merely the surface.

11) Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) was one of the earliest proponents of the keyboard suite. Several of his pieces have very detailed programmes or explanations of the stories they depict. The full details have only recently come to light in rediscovered manuscripts. It does seem that Froberger is a more likely influence on the music of our musical "Scholar Gypsy" than the English consort tradition. Froberger probably studied with Anthanasius Kircher in the 1640s. Kircher is a complex figure who tried to master all sciences and esoteric learning. The significant difference between the English consort tradition and the Italian and North European early baroque sonata is that the English style tends to favour "conversation", music to be played by private groups, whereas the "stylus phantasticus" (Kircher's term) favours individual virtuosity before an audience.

12) Both the Great Western and London Midland and Scottish railways had branch lines serving the most remote parts of the border country. Most of these closed as a result of the Beeching cuts of the 1960s but some had gone long before, such as the Bishops Castle Railway (closed as early as 1935) and the New Radnor branch (closed in 1951).

13) Lady (Anne) Conway (1631-1679) of Ragley Hall, Worcestershire, was an extraordinary 17th century philosopher, influenced in part by the Cambridge Platonists. Her anonymously published work is " Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy 1690.

14) "The Ravello Dialogues (Anonymous. Transcribed on http://www.heardmusic.co.uk/) are in the form of fictitious Platonic dialogues between a certainly fictitious composer, Joseph Mordant, and his various interlocutors. Mordant seems to be a fictionalised version of the anonymous composer of this story, though the Dialogues may be an unrelated response to the same legend. It is certainly hard to relate the apparent period of the Dialogues to the hazy 20th century setting of the present tale.

15) This does not necessarily imply that the house itself was in Wales.

16) Arthur Machen (1863-1947) was a Welsh writer, famous for his atmospheric supernatural tales. The link here is probably with Machens novel "The Hill of Dreams in which a vividly described sunset plays an important part. As with note 15 it has to be said that the connection with Machens world is a matter of mood and does not necessarily imply that the setting of this story is west of the border.

17) Dr Charles Burney (1726-1814) published his entertaining journal as "The Present State of Music in France and Italy" (1771)

18) Sir William Jones (1746-1794) was a judge in India, as they say, and became an enthusiast for Indian culture of all kinds.

19) Johann Friedrich Hugo von Dalberg (1752-1812) is another sadly forgotten composer. He spent some time in England at the time of Haydn's first London visit. He also wrote fanciful essays on the spirirual value of music. There is an unpublished manuscript from the same source (apparently) as the "Ravello Dilaogues" mentioned in the story which claims to be based ona journal of the (fictitious?)composer Mordant in which Dalberg appears as a character.

20) William Blake (1770-1827) was an eccentric and rather amateurish artist and poet. He is claimed as a visionary though his visions are limited to his own private mythology which recycles second hand imagery and conveys nothing more than the jumbled content of his constipated brain. His follower Samuel Palmer, in contrast, was a true visionary.

21) I believe this is not the case, though Kircher (1602-1680) does give a scheme associating the signs of the zodiac with the twelve tribes of Israel.

22) The 12 possible keys are often placed in a circle showing their relationships. The key the interval ofa fifth above, for example, would be the closest to the starting key. They key opposite would be the most tonally remote, at the interval of an augmented fourth or tritone.

23) The medieval church modes include modes which are in effect the same as modern major and minor but they include others, as if starting on a different white note on the piano. They are only vaguely linked to ancient Greek modes which used more subtle tunings.

24) Goethe's poem, in "Wilhelm Meister", sung by the mysterious waif Mignon, is the classic symbol for the longing for the south.

25) In medieval philosophy, derived from Platonic roots, there is an association of forests and unformed matter - both "silva" in Latin. The imaginary forest the realm of adventures in which new forms are constantly struggling to be.

26) In Talmudic tradition 72 scholars were set to work to translate the Old Testament in Greek. Each scholar, kept apart, produced an identical translation, known as the Septuagint. Though this seems to support the divine authority of the Greek it is curious that apparent mistranslations have caused all manner of theological complications. The number 72 has deep symbolic meanings. The mystical verses in the Book of Exodus known as the Schemamphorash (Exodus 14: 19-2) each contain 72 Hebrew letters and are said by cabalists to contain the secret Name of God. This may have been known to the speakers Masonic friend. (See note 26). Perhaps more appropriately to this story in cabalistic tradition there were reputed to be 72 steps to the ladder which Jacob saw stretching to heaven.

It seems that one of the features of this nebulous tradition which I am trying to define is that the composer uses some kind of musical starting point, such as the chords mentioned in the story, and often a series of these gives a structure to what is called here an "Itinerary." This may simply give the incentive or momentum to the exploration. It may be in earlier times a fragment of plainsong was used, derived from the use of plainsong as seed of a mass setting. In some cases a composer may simply use the 24 keys as an overall framework to guide the mental journey. There seems to be a creative importance in having something "random" so that the composer's personal imagination doesnot provide the starting point and dominate the work. The personal imagination and the composer's musical technique provide the language rather than the content.

27) This implies that the friend was a member of the "Royal Arch, the Masonic order that is said to "complete the three well known "blue degrees of freemasonry. Perhaps the earlier reference to the significance of the number 72 may imply that the speaker had also learned from his friend (or could it have been personal knowledge?) something of the more esoteric Masonic societies?

28) "Dimensions of Paradise is a book concerning mathematical symbolism by the late John Michell. (Thames and Hudson, 1988).

29) This is a quotation from the Book of Revelation (22:2) referring to the leaves of the Tree of Life in the Heavenly Jerusalem. John Michells book (See note 27) makes much of this phrase, and sees the leaves as a symbol of the power of harmony, or the fundamental canon of proportion in art and nature. The biblical source does not number the leaves but the elaborate symbolism of the Holy City is probably based on the tradition of the twelve tribes of Israel.


Toller found himself unable to ask the unknown figure at the the table to show him the 71 pieces he had completed. There was a trerrible danger that he might actually produce them. The alternative outcome would have been that the stranger would have been embarrassed by the fact that no such music existed and there would have been the painful excuses - "Oh, I seem to have left my briefcase in my room" or "The manuscripts are currently with my copyist, you must know him, old Kreisler who maintains the old traditions of musical orthography in his room in Coptic Street."

And so the story recedes into the mist that spreads from the foot of that waterfall somewhere on the border.

Except that the glimmers of the story seems to dance in that mist and emerge from it as irresistable will o the wisps. I find I can sense that atmosphere of travel and quest growing.

The image of the musical traveller has been with me for many years. What is the "truth" of it? I can see now that the "vardo", the caravan that took him on these wanderings may have been the music itself - not the clavichord on which he composed to record his memories at nighttime but the music, the "hieroglyphic language" that created the vehicle in his mind in which he could travel through the world of his imagination. His map, the guiding path of his itinerary, may or may not have been the musical device of the zodiac chords. There is nothing more real than this. If we work with this language, even a shaky wooden language that seems to run on rutted tracks, we can follow our roads into that infinite world. It's one device of many. Of course there are those, like Harrison, who would say it was all fantasy - but I would have to reply that fantasy is our way of experiencing truth. The images we see on our travels are, like the music, a language that conveys a deeper reality, pure form, pure meaning. Without the device of the music, his wooden travelling machine, our Composer Gypsy may have become lost in self reflective fantasy, but the music can be a discipline, a road to follow.

The spirit of the Scholar Gypsy possesses us. It is this spirit that the mysterious and rather arch lady in that "House on the Border" seems to have passed on to me through the webs of parenthesis, and needless to say the pages of score are appearing on my desk like rutted tracks in the wake of the "vardo."