Messing about in …
Visual Arts and Architecture
I’m keen on landscape art – from the Dutch masters to contemporary artists like Norman Ackroyd, Chris Wilson in Northern Ireland and Pete Bousfield in Cornwall – as well as on outdoor sculpture and abstract art.
Painters, photographers, sculptors and architects to whom I return time and again include Böcklin, Bourgeois, Caillebotte, Calatrava, Caravaggio, Caro, Cézanne (above, Mont Sainte-Victoire et Château Noir, 1904-06), Robert Delaunay, Gormley, Hammershøi, Heartfield, Hiroshige, Hodgkin, Hokusai, Kapoor, Kertész, Klee, Liebeskind, Long, Magritte, Malevich, Meunier, Miró, Mondrian, Paul Nash, Riley, Rodin, Serra, Frank Stella, Tatlin, Tilson, Tom Thomson, Turner, Valamanesh, van Gogh, Viola and Kyffin Williams.
I met and stayed with the painter Patrick Heron in Cornwall several times in the early 1980s and as a result I have been hugely motivated by the creativity of Hepworth, Heron, Nicholson, O’Malley, Tuke, Wells, Wynter and other artists who worked in St Ives and West Cornwall.
I imagine that all composers set poetry at some time in their lives. My choices have included medieval Latin lyrics, poetry from France, Poland (too little of it translated, though) and Japan. Edward Thomas (left, unfortunately no relation) and his understated way with words and their rhythms have been a particular inspiration. I’m an avid reader of poetry in English (Causley, C. P. Cavafy, Thom Gunn, Conrad Hilberry, Michael Longley, Andrew Marvell, Paul Muldoon, Thomas Traherne), of French-language literature (Baudelaire, Camus, Eluard, Genet, Michaux, Molière, Montaigne, Prévert, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Voltaire) and other foreign literature in translation (Basho, Büchner, Buson, Hesse, Lao Tzu, Lorca, Mishima, Pirandello, Rumi, Wedekind).
Chinese and Japanese Culture
We have many Chinese mementos in the family, including huge lettered scrolls and tiny shoes for women with bound feet. I’ve made a study of my grandparents’ time in China in the 1910s and 20s from their diaries and letters. I travelled in China in 1982, visiting Beijing, Dunhuang and Sian.
My interest in Japanese culture was sparked, just as I was starting my music studies in 1966, by reading the 17th-century prose and poetry travelogue The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho (right) and The Way of Zenby Alan W. Watts. I was profoundly affected by Zen philosophical practice as well as by seeing Noh drama at the Aldwych Theatre in London in April 1967. I have since developed a passion for Japanese art and gardens. Some of my music has been provoked by reading haiku.
I have been fascinated by moths, butterflies and caterpillars since I was at school, when my brother and I would make our own butterfly nets with muslin and bent cane, ‘stink’ and set our captives. That’s not acceptable today, I know, but it seemed innocent fun at the time. For many years I bred butterflies and moths – their life cycle is a great metaphor for the creative process. My favourites were those with strangely beautiful caterpillars, like Puss Moths (left, photo by Jan Ovesny, reproduced with permission), Lobster, Emperor and Hawk Moths.
Cornish History and Landscape
With several centuries of Cornish ancestry, I am lucky to be living again in the county. This side of my family comes from West Penwith, with its powerful landscape and history of early settlements, mining and seafaring.
I now live at the opposite end of the county, between the North and South coasts. Bodmin Moor’s own landscape, with its bronze-age settlements, stone quarries and copper and tin mines, inspires and resonates, whether bathed in sun, shrouded in dense mist or battered by fierce rain. I wish it was still called Foweymoor, just as Exmoor and Dartmoor are named after their main rivers.
Languages (French, Italian, Polish), tea, literacy (commas), violet creams, etymology, Chianti, photography, blackberries (the fruit), Grotowski theatre, Yarg, The News Quiz, Blikle’s pączki (below), black and white films, sushi, Polish posters of the 70s and 80s, cloudberry jam, maps, sopocka ham, ISIHAC, single malt, athletics, cassoulet, Berger & Wyse …