Monday, July 10, 2006

“A Harp! A Harp! My Kingdom For A Harp!” ... eo magis me ca ...hominem trasmarinum et innocentem

"A new piece for solo harp may not seem the most enticing of prospects, but one of the marks of a great composer is the ability to transcend any medium and create something totally new and unexpected. Harrison Birtwistle describes his harp piece Crowd as a study on resonance, and has taken the title from the old English word for a plucked stringed instrument, emphasising the way in which he has gone back to the very basics of the harp and reinvented its character.

The UK premiere of Crowd was the highlight of Helen Radice's Cheltenham festival recital, given in the tiny Norman church of St Swithin's, Quenington; it's a piece whose intricate rhythms will tax the technique of any harpist, but Radice seemed completely on top of all of its challenges. The player has to ensure that the harp's strings resonate freely, so the pauses and silences that slice through the 11-minute piece are constantly coloured by decaying sounds, and the varied rhythmic patterns build up over resounding pedal notes. It is quintessential Birtwistle, darkly intense and slightly mysterious, and unquestionably a major addition to the harp repertory.

There was another premiere in the concert given by the Festival Players with trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, artist-in-association at Cheltenham this year: Jonathan Harvey's Other Presences, for trumpet and electronics. Stockhausen stood in the middle of the Pittville Pump Room, playing his trumpet with one hand and operating a sampling keyboard with the other, so that real-time recordings of what he was playing live were stored and projected to loudspeakers around the hall. Harvey relates this to his experience of hearing Tibetan Buddhist ceremonial music, and there's certainly a ritual element in its digitalised processes of call and response. Most of all, though, it's an enthralling and evocative essay in sonority, beautifully shaped, full of ravishing sound complexes, and one that Stockhausen played with consummate authority."

Andrew Clements "Birtwistle/Harvey" The Guardian July 8, 2006,,1815773,00.html


"The Vindolanda writing tablets, written in ink on post-card sized sheets of wood, have been excavated [1975] at the fort of Vindolanda, immediately south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Dating to the the late first and early second centuries CE, the formative period of Roman Britain’s northern frontier, they were written by and for soldiers, merchants, women, and slaves.

Vindolanda lies in the middle of the neck of land where northern England is at its narrowest between the North Sea and the Irish Sea. High in the Pennine hills above the valley of the South Tyne, it is c.25 miles (40 km) from Carlisle in the west and a few miles more from Newcastle in the east. The site is a mile south of Hadrian's Wall's most spectacular and best preserved section on the Whin Sill. A garrison occupied the fort from the late first century AD to the Roman army's abandonment of its northern British frontier over three centuries later. The early garrisons had themselves been recruited from the edge of the empire, from Gauls and Germans on the lower Rhine. The exotic origins of some of the troops are indicated in their un-Roman names, such as Gnavorix, Chrauttius and Gambax. Its location, on the outermost edge of one of Rome's most remote provinces, meant that Vindolanda was highly dependent on its own resources and resourcefulness. The range of skills documented at the fort, from brewing to plumbing, as well as careful husbanding of materials - surviving remnants of footwear show that pieces of leather were re-used several times over - demonstrate the extent of the fort's self-sufficiency.

Yet the Vindolanda garrison was by no means utterly isolated. The garrison was part of an army of c.50,000 men, distributed across northern Britain. The roads, built to support the conquest of Britain, ensured rapid communications with other garrisons and with the south - London could be reached in less than a week- and with the Continent."

From the Vindolanda Tablets:

n n 1 eo magis me ca[ c.12
n n 2 d...[.]em mercem [ c.8
n n 3 r[.] uel effunder[ c.3 ]r[
n n n 4 [..]mine probo tuam maies-
n 5 [t]atem imploro ne patiaris me
n 6 [i]nnocentem uirgis cas[t]igatum
n n 7 esse et domine prou[.]. prae-
n 8 [fe]cto non potui queri quia ua-
n 9 [let]udini detinebatur
n 10 ques[tu]s sum beneficiario
n 11 [ c.8 cen]turionibu[s
n 12 [ c.7 ] numeri eius [
13 [c.3 tu]am misericord[ia]m
14 imploro ne patiaris me
n 15 hominem trasmarinum
n 16 et innocentem de cuius f[ide
n 17 inquiras uirgis cruent[at]u[m
n 18 esse ac si aliquid sceler[i]s
n 19 commississem uacat


"... he beat (?) me all the more ... goods ... or pour them down the drain (?). As befits an honest man (?) I implore your majesty not to allow me, an innocent man, to have been beaten with rods and, my lord, inasmuch as (?) I was unable to complain to the prefect because he was detained by ill-health I have complained in vain (?) to the beneficiarius and the rest (?) of the centurions of his (?) unit. Accordingly (?) I implore your mercifulness not to allow me, a man from overseas and an innocent one, about whose good faith you may inquire, to have been bloodied by rods as if I had committed some crime."

Vindolanda Inventory No. 88.943

Text and photo credit: Vindolanda Tablets Online. Oxford University, with funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation. With thanks.


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