Version for 13 solo basses
First performance Gary Karr and members of the Karr Kamp
Conductor Gavin Bryars
Basses Loaded, Philip T Young Hall, University of Victoria
The Porazzi Fragment (1999)
for 21 solo strings
Commissioned by the Primavera Orchestra, and designed for the orchestra’s string formation (11 violins, 4 violas, 4 celli and 2 basses), this piece for strings alone originates in an enigmatic, and unpublished, 13 bar musical theme by Wagner which appears to have been started during the period when he was composing the second act of Tristan und Isolde, but only finished shortly after the completion of Parsifal in Palermo. At this time Wagner was staying in the palace of Prince Gangi – in the Piazza dei Porazzi – in order to escape the noise outside his hotel the Grand Hotel des Palmes – the same hotel in which Raymond Roussel committed suicide in 1933.
The first 8 bars, of which the eighth was crossed out, date from 1858-9. Yet it was only on March 2nd 1882, in Palermo, that Cosima witnessed his completion of the melody. The crossing out of bar eight and the remaining bars are all written in the same violet ink which he used for the full score of Parsifal. It is also almost certain that this was the music that he was reported to have been playing on the piano the night before he died in February 1883 at the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi in Venice, now the municipal casino and which, as Cosima’s diary notes, represents his “last musical thoughts”.
The original Wagner music emerges eventually towards the end of the piece – rather in the manner in which the funeral march from Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony emerges at the end of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen (also for solo strings)
Dedicated to my wife, Anya