"I come to ferry you hence across the tide
To endless night, fierce fires and shramming cold.” — Dante
“To those who by the dint of glass and vapour,
Discover stars, and sail in the wind’s eye” — Byron
Night Ferry is music of voyages, from stormy darkness to enchanted worlds. It is music of the conjurer and setter of tides, the guide through the "ungovernable and dangerous". Exploring a winding path between explosive turbulent chaoticism and chamber lyricism, this piece weaves many threads of ideas and imagery. These stem from Riccardo Muti’s suggestion that I look to Schubert for inspiration as Night Ferry will be premiered with Entr'acte No. 3 from Rosamunde and his Symphony No. 9 (Great).
The title, Night Ferry, came from a passage in Seamus Heaney’s Elegy for Robert Lowell, an American poet who, like Schubert, suffered from manic depression:
"You were our Night Ferry
thudding in a big sea,
the whole craft ringing
with an armourer's music
the course set wilfully across
the ungovernable and dangerous"
More specifically, Schubert suffered from cyclothymia, a form of manic depression that is characterized by severe mood swings, ranging from agonizing depression to hypomania, a mild form of mania characterized by an elevated mood and often associated with lucid thoughts and heightened creativity. This illness sometimes manifests in rapid shifts between the two states and also in periods of mixed states whereby symptoms of both extremes are present. This illness shadowed Schubert throughout his adulthood, and it impacted and inspired his art dramatically. His friends report that in its most troublesome form, he suffered periods of “dark despair and violent anger”. Schubert asserted that whenever he wrote songs of love, he wrote songs of pain, and whenever he wrote songs of pain, he wrote songs of love. Extremes were an organic part of his make-up.
In its essence, Night Ferry is a sonic portrait of voyages; voyages within nature and of physical, mental and emotional states. I decided to try a new process in creating this work—simultaneously painting the music, whilst writing it. On my wall, I taped seven large canvasses, side-by-side, horizontally, each divided into three sub-sections. This became my visual timeline for the duration of the music. In correlation to composing the music, I painted from left to right, moving forward through time. I painted a section then composed a section, and vice versa, intertwining the two in the creative process.
The process of unraveling the music visually helped to spark ideas for musical motifs, development, orchestration, and, in particular, structure. Similarly, the music would also give direction to color, texture and form. Upon the canvas I layered paint, charcoal, pencil, pen, ribbon, gauze, snippets of text from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, fragments of Gustav Doré’s illustrations for this wonderfully evocative poem, and a selection of quotes from artists afflicted with, and blessed by, this fascinating illness.
The first text written on the canvas, to the far left side, in the bottom left corner reads “from a slow and powerful root…somewhere on the sea floor”. These are a couple of lines, quoted out of order, from Rumi’s poem, Where Everything is Music. Copied below is a passage from this beautiful poem, in translation by Coleman Barks. His words unite the profound depth, power and parallels of nature and the human existence, as conveyed in Heaney’s image of Lowell as a “Night Ferry”.
“We have fallen into the place
where everything is music…
This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.
Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!
from a slow and powerful root
that we can't see”
In addition to the above, I also found inspiration from the extraordinary power of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Muti’s baton, and also the unique voices of the individual musicians within the orchestra. Writing for an orchestra is usually an anonymous endeavor, but I am in the fortunate position of knowing the musicians and their musical voices through this residency. I found myself not writing solely for the instruments, but for the specific musicians of the CSO. Thank you to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for this wonderful opportunity.
—- Anna Clyne
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.
"…an absorbing, elegantly crafted work…"
— John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
"Night Ferry is a powerful, compelling work displaying the freshness and individuality of the greatly gifted Clyne…"
— Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review
"…a swirling evocation of dark physical and mental seas and a voyage on a courier vessel that’s more important than any landing or destination. Starting with a loud and low storm in the opening measures, it evokes the launch of Verdi’s 'Otello,' with a series of repeated and altered falling themes in wind solos ride atop the churning strings."
— Andrew Patner, Chicago Sun-Times