The violet and the vine (2016)

bass viol, harpsichord
12 min.

The title of this piece, from Edgar Allan Poe’s The City in the Sea, was suggested to me many years ago by a gambist friend who was taken with the chain of vivid images in one particular line: “The viol, the violet, and the vine”. Having the viol present physically, my main concern was at first the musical realization of the intertwining of vines and friezes on stone structures, as described by Poe. The piece opens with a long, halting solo for the viol, its breath-like tones slowly becoming a descending lament. Its sinuous line writhes around and through static chords in the harpsichord, much like the ivy creeping up Poe’s stone towers. Although I’d intended to keep my distance from the Gothic world of the poem, Poe’s central theme of a decaying city ruled by death, slowly sinking into watery oblivion, was a powerful one. Perhaps inevitably, the piece took on shades of the humanitarian crisis unfolding on Europe’s southern shores at the time, bringing out a tone of pursuit, obsessive, elegiac reflection, and ultimately despair as it sinks into the depths.

The violet and the vine was commissioned by Varpu Haavisto and Assi Karttunen with assistance from the Finnish Cultural Fund, and is dedicated to them.