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Michael Berkeley For the Savage Messiah (1985)

For violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano

12 minutes


The music begins with a large boulder of sound on the piano that triggers off a scrambling burst of notes on the other instruments, with whom it is frequently in conflict. As the composition developed I became more and more conscious of a very physical relationship with the music. I felt as I imagined a sculptor must feel, moulding and chipping away tangible textures, and at this point I reread H.S. Edes Savage Messiah - a remarkable portrait of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, the French sculptor who died in the trenches in 1915 at the age of 24. The preceding years were filled with dynamic, not to say demonic, creativity, passionate love and tragedy. Gaudier added the Brzeska to his name having fallen in love with Sophie Brzeska, a disturbed Polish woman almost twice Gaudier’s age, who died in an asylum in 1925. Their life in Paris and London was marked by extreme poverty and work of real brilliance. Gaudier was a fabulous draughtsman, but coupled to his delicate lines there seems to me a boulder-like massiveness born of frenetic energy. But it is perhaps most of all the awful inevitability of his life and the appalling waste at its ending that are echoed in the music. The boulder, like the Savage Messiah, is both the man and his destiny. 
© Michael Berkeley 1985


For the Savage Messiah was commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble of London with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain and was given its first performance by the Schubert Ensemble at the Wigmore hall on 23rd May 1985.

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