The Blue Horse Walks on the Horizon
for string quartet(2010)
|Commission||Caramoor International Music Festival (Caramoor Center for Music and Arts), on behalf of the Jasper String Quartet for the commissioning project "A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century"|
|Premiere||August 5, 2010; Caramoor Center for Music and Arts, Katonah, NY; Jasper String Quartet|
The Blue Horse Walks on the Horizon is inspired by the surreal radio broadcasts and codes used by European resistance groups in World War II. It incorporates musical materials drawn from the mysterious “Messages Personnels” broadcast to the French Resistance, a silken code scarf used by Danish Resistance members, and the transformative processes of encryption.
The figure in the beginning of the piece is based on the rhythm of "Le cheval bleu se promène sur l'horizon" (the blue horse walks on the horizon), which was one of the statements broadcast from the British to the French Resistance in their “messages personnels” radio program. These broadcasts, which transmitted secret messages to resistance forces all over France, consisted of surreal phrases that were read over some very odd music. As the show became very popular, hundreds of these messages were read out every evening, which succeeded in keeping German decoders very busy. I listened to a recording of this compelling, hypnotic broadcast, transcribed the message, and imagined the repeating rhythmic figure as a series of voices in the distance.
Another source of inspiration was a a piece of silk imprinted with codes that was used by the Danish Resistance in the field. I was struck by the beauty of this object that somehow survived the war, and the fleeting nature of the transmission of such critical information. When encrypting a message, resistance members would use one line of code, tear it off, and then burn it. I took a picture of the silken relic and read it like music, assigning individual letters to pitches. Like a message emerging from a random sea of characters, I heard melodic fragments materializing out of a bed of sustained, ethereal harmonics. In my research, I also found many pages of 5-character codes, which I transcribed and used as shifting, repeating figures that represent the ephemeral quality of these coded messages, and their transformation from abstract information, to a decoded message, to a specific action, such as a violent act of sabotage.
The piece is dedicated to Bernard Peiffer, who was a great pianist and was a member of the French Resistance in WWII. I had the pleasure of studying piano with Bernard during my most formative years, and he continues to be a source of great inspiration.