Daryl Runswick

Into the Miraculous



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accidental counterpoints texts  ❍
Flute Sonata note  ❍
Island note and texts  ❍

The three works presented on my new CD date from the decade of my fifties.  accidental counterpoints was commissioned in 1995 but wasn’t actually composed until 1998. This was due to my uncertainty about what texts to use: I wanted something thoughtful or philosophical, and first thought of Christina Rossetti (rejected as too christian), then Elizabeth Smart (too gloomy), then Laura Riding, who appears to have left a codicil in her will that none of her poems were ever to be set to music. Exasperated, I decided to write my own. Catherine Pierard, who commissioned accidental counterpoints, didn’t seem to mind waiting three years for her money’s worth.

No such dithering took place over Island, the next of these pieces to be written (in 2002). John Rath, my great friend and the work’s dedicatee, suggested the poems of Miriam Scott for the texts and made the selection himself. Where accidental counterpoints reflects on life from a personal point of view, Island grasps the elemental, the fabulous, granite and ocean. John Rath and I gave the first performance in London in June 2002.

Flute Sonata (2003) had no commissioner and was written out of necessity (because it had to be) and for fun. It is now dedicated to Wissam Boustany in recognition of the brilliant performance he gave with Douglas Finch, only a week after the world premiere, captured in this recording.

Technically all these pieces share a preoccupation of mine at this period with aleatoric techniques. Much of the music is written out in such a way that the rhythms and the counterpoint are variable from performance to performance. This is not just a fad – the elasticity of the notations results in a kind of liquid flow that I could not have achieved with barlines, quavers and crotchets. So the

term 'accidental counterpoints’ can be applied in a stylistic
sense to all three of these pieces.

The occasion for this recording of Flute Sonata was a concert
given to mark my retirement as Head of Composition at
Trinity College of Music in London in November 2005.
accidental counterpoints and Island were performed almost
a year later at my 60th Birthday Concert at the Almeida
Theatre in London, by the artists represented here, Sally Burgess,
the Smith Quartet, Malcolm King and Muriel Bérard: these
studio recordings were made a few weeks later.

accidental counterpoints


over breakfast he said

"making love to you -
when I am closest to you -
that is when I feel the most alone

because, no matter what
we are always, everywhere, alone"

as if the act of love
were final proof of separation
as if loving
was evasion, hypocrisy
as if I can never, ever, be close to him
as if we can never say what we mean

as if, no matter what
we are always, everywhere, alone


in Limassol Zoo a dozen big cats laze, yawn and bicker
this is not their country; they prowl, preen, lie listless,
prowl again: three paces, turn, three paces
dreaming of elsewhere, elsewhere

on London Bridge myriad commuters jostle and swarm
strange interior silence of a crowd
faces shut off, bodies bent on some urgent goal
off-screen, elsewhere, elsewhere

but in crystal waters a thousand dazzling fish
dart, spiral, swim in stunning unison

here onstage a string quartet
nonchalantly makes accidental counterpoint

wings pulsing in ice-blue sky, a cloud of starlings wheels
in V-formation: what does it feel like to be the bird in front?


what's real? this - choose anything - this - is it real?
what we're playing - this - that - was it real?
where's it gone?

what's real? the lost Leonardo
the re-discovered figurine - whose mind were they in
all these years? did they exist? where?

life passes by like a parade; we look on,
we look away (perhaps we are somewhere else)

memory - we watch like a movie
a face - it floats and fades

what's real? I believe this, so it's real - really?
I would make a stand for this, so it's real - do you say so?

but we act on our prejudices without thinking

is this real? is this real for you? is this really real?


I have this memory of childhood:
on the creosoted fence, hundreds of them -
daddy-longlegs, teetering, prancing

what happens when you pull a wing off?
do the legs pull off too?
what to do with the little worm left wriggling?

dark smell of stained wood and
all the unforgivable things ever since
said and done to people's hurt

hundreds of daddy-longlegs
squash them against the fence, a dozen at a time
or grab one by the wing, watch it struggle -

one-winged flight, is it possible?
forgiveness - how, with a wing missing?


we jerk and prance, dangling on wires from a frame
marionettes, we nod and leap at the puppeteer's tilt
Desire Narcotic Aflame is the puppeteer's nickname

bored with a love that stays too safe or too long the same
we plunge into affairs, drowning, up to the hilt
we posture, dance, dangling on wires from a frame

the fabric of our love, loose-wove, soft, warm, became
a ripped rag, spoiled, the rending of a quilt
Death Never Alone is the puppeteer's nickname

damage done without a glance, no prick of shame
thoughtless or careless whether blood is spilt
we preen, romance, dangling on wires from a frame

or, balking at the danger, old love reclaim
expect forgiveness as a right, no prod of guilt -
Dickhead Naked Annihilate is the puppeteer's nickname

from conquest to conquest the sad procession, game after game
on and on till there's no-one left to jilt
we jerk and prance, dangling on wires from a frame
Desire Narcotic Aflame is the puppeteer's nickname



Flute Sonata


Flute Sonata (2003) is one of my 'dot music' pieces, where the players are provided in the score with note-heads only; no stems appear, neither do any rests or barlines. Apart from the pitches and
approximate rhythms, everything has to be improvised: note lengths, dynamics, accents, phrasing, timbre: every other aspect of the piece's
realisation. The choices the performers make here will crucially influence how you experience the Sonata, which can and will sound quite different on different occasions.

The first thing the listener notices about the Sonata is that it is canonical: the two players play the same material in canon at longer or shorter intervals. Less obvious is that the music is modal (written
in modes rather than keys) – this is what gives the Sonata its particular flavour. It is cast in a single movement lasting about 12 minutes. There are six sections, all containing roughly the same music, played faster or slower. The shortest section lasts just 30 seconds, the longest (the final one) almost four minutes. Apart from this compressing and extending, other processes are applied: inversion, retrograde and the varying of the mode. This produces a music whose repetitions tend, not so much toward a traditional sonata-development, more toward variation form.




1    The Making of the Island

On the edge of a continent,
slow dance of rock and ocean.
Grey clouds, continents drifting north, that is ocean
parting around them, the Island following.

There are no people yet,
only earth making and remaking.
The seabed heaves and splits. From the world
beneath come waves of lava, basalt
crashing against the continent's mass, making the Island
on which you, or the saints, will stand in clear light,

Will the Island rise around me shining, red living roots
flowing down to the world below seabed?

2    Going to the Island

In the soft noon light, the boat rounds the end of the island.
The arrival begins: the small launch set straight
at rolling swell. Each wave breaks blue water over boat and passengers.

Many drowned to risk that hazardous crossing, to arrive,
soaked, sea sick, tossed undrowned from a boiling sea, to enter stillness.
You know this.

A small cove with a jetty of old rock. A white beach.
A seal's sad eyes watch each step from sea to shore.
A small sandy lane curves up to the village.
A winter journey brought you here.

3    The True Face of the Island

Seals stood in the water, watching. Their souls looked out of their eyes.
After a seal hunt one man was marooned.
That night seals dead and living surrounded his rock,
crying through the storm with human voices.
That man saw the true face of the Island.

We were on a towering cliff.
He took me in a strong embrace, blew a long breath into my mouth
and we dived together under the sea.
At the bottom of the sea, a door opened.
The seal man showed me my own knife.

“I stuck that knife into a seal, he escaped with it into the water.”

“That seal was my father.”

I closed up the lips of his wound with the hands that had given it.

4    Departure

So seasons change, ferociously. A recurring dream brought you here.

Brace yourself on rock like the prow of a ship
wrapped in wind. Reach down and touch the stones.
They remember beginning. Beneath you, the Island
shoulders on, continuing its voyage.

You go back to where you live, uncertain, inspired. You forget.
The Island slips further away: tides, seals, sea-bitten rock.

Far away, unknowing, you feel that pull into the dark,
frightening and attractive. Imagine your last breath. That sigh.
How the chest collapses. How a door opens into the miraculous.