Piers Hellawell The Weaver of Grass (2003)
For violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano
The work forms a continuous sequence but is in fact a quilt of smaller panels – almost a collection of artefacts (the connection with its title matter). Whereas my works tend to be written like stories, where the search for a beginning is followed by a straight narrative, this one was written as a series of fragments, finally put together in a chosen pattern, that accord with my ‘sound carvings’ principle of earlier instrumental works. My fist idea for an opening, for example, ended up in the middle, and it leads into a set of twelve variants on a kind of chant, a sequence that forms the work’s second half.
This title refers to the amazing story of Angus McPhee from South Uist who, through many years of mental illness, made sense of his life by making things out of grass – not decorative items, but household objects such as hats, clothes and even shoes. For me these remarkable but transient artefacts, more than anything of the avant-garde, raise questions about the purpose of art, being deeply rooted in collective memory while not actually functional (with the possible exception of the hats). They are more like cousins-once-removed of art - emblems of actual life. The skilled bending of natural materials into what the maker recognised is for me a sort of metaphor for composition.
© Piers Hellawell
Weaver of Grass was commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble to mark their 20th Anniversary with funds from the Schubert Ensemble Trust, the Steel Charitable Trust and the Brighton Festival. It was premiered by the Schubert Ensemble at the Brighton Festival on 7th May 2003.