Fifteen Poems about Composers

John Andrews

[September 2002.]


Edgar Varèse

My most influential teacher?
The Statue of Liberty.
She taught me how to play the radio,
To ignore the madcap spoken voice,
To sing along to static.
Now I am full of the sun,
A friend of the pulsing air;
A private eye in the dark streets of sound,
Kissing the shadows of skyscrapers.

Frank Zappa

A house in Beverly Hills,
A rainy Sunday afternoon.
Next to the empty pool, which no-one cleans,
Lies an old surfboard.

A sadness sits behind the closed blinds.
The owners are away.

György Ligeti

The waterdrop dreams of being ice,
To have shape, structure.

The ice crystal dreams of being a cloud,
Floating above the earth, reaching up to the sun.

The cloud dreams of being the sea,
To play with dolphins in the breeze,
To hear the salmon sing in the streams.

The world turns through a cycle of dreams.

Hildegard of Bingen

From the marriage of prism and light
Came a family of colors.
We know that they are here
When a bridge forms in the sky,
When the sun shines through a stained glass window.
Their voices are like pebbles,
Washed by the rain,
Polished by the sun,
Smoothed by the centuries.

John Adams

In Lukeville, the border guards
Are playing cards. A child’s footstep
Separates America from Mexico,
Hamburgers from tortillas,
Pesos from dollars.
In the Sonoran desert,
I dream of ocean-going liners.
Each tall sajuaro cactus
Is one note from a symphony.
At sunset, coyotes sing.
No symmetries lie across the borderline.

John Cage

Football can be played with two balls or three,
Or maybe with none — doesn’t matter to me.
You can score for your own side, and also the other;
Referee and linesmen? I wouldn’t bother.
Penalties must be taken if the wind moves to the west:
All players close their eyes and hope for the best.
The World Cup Final will be played by teams
From the same country. It’s not what it seems,
This beautiful game. Forget about who lost and who won.
It’s just like music — it’s all about fun.

John Tavener

Silence is not just the absence of sound;
Light is not just the absence of dark.
Space is not just the absence of form;
Good is not just the absence of evil.
Death is not just the absence of life;
Love is what fills the space in the void.

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Light makes the all-surrounding frame
That holds all points in space and time.
This single sphere that we call the universe
Resonates with just one sound.

As soft as a cloud’s kiss
As clear as a dream of water;
A dance to harmony’s echo.

And all the music that we ever make
Falls in heaven like a lone snowflake.

Luigi Nono

In the Sunday market in Cannobio,
The stalls next to the lake sell rich salami,
Crystals of Parmesan for grating,
Moss green bottles of olive oil.
In a hidden, still courtyard,
Lunch is eaten in the May sun,
While small boats drift drowsily
On the olive waters of Lake Maggiore.
The clouds are on holiday today.

Olivier Messiaen

Spring sunshine through an open window,
And the sound of a bird — singing?
We call it birdsong, but we don’t actually know.
Still, music is what we want it to be.

Fences remind him of music staves.
The bird flies away from its barbed wire perch
Under a rainbow of sound
Towards a silent waterfall.

Benjamin Britten

The cultured Englishman personified:
His comfortable, tweedy house,
The east wind and the fishing boats.
Miles away, Coventry is destroyed,
A new cathedral pulling itself up towards heaven
As choirboys sing in the Anglian twilight.

Morton Feldman

It’s your turn, and in you dive,
Deep into the multi-shaded blue,
And the deeper you go the more you feel alive.

Down, deeper, down, darker,
You sink into the infinite blue
Of a painting by Mark Rothko.

Terry Riley

bandanna man,
his crinkle-cut face
eating dim sum in San Francisco,
the foghorns in the Bay
sliding along a rainbow in curved air.
the ghosts of Kerouac and Ginsberg
dance to the steady beat
sun-pulsed city
of the jingle-jangle trams.

Iannis Xenakis

It’s hot, too hot to do anything
Except lie in a shaded hammock
And read, until doziness steals stealthily in.
A jacket of waterdrops coats the cool side
Of a half empty bottle of retsina.
A plate of black and green olives,
Dotted with paper thin slices of garlic,
Sleeps on a whitewashed wall.
It’s hot. The sound of a cello
Hovers like a hawk on the somnolent breeze.

Toru Takemitsu

Butterflies in a Japanese garden,
The rain softly falling;
Doves rest on a lacquered screen.

Far away, on the sea shore,
A woman walks barefoot in the dunes.
She finds five shells. Out at sea,
A blue sailboat comes silently home.


Poet John Andrews provides this biographical sketch:

I was born in Manchester, England in 1955, and read physics at university, going on to take a PhD in that subject. Having come to the conclusion that I was far from being the next Einstein, I switched careers in my early thirties and became an investment manager. I moved to Switzerland in 1992 and met my wife Silvia there; we married in 1997. In the summer of that year I decided to move to a state of semi-retirement, and since then we’ve traveled a lot and I have been able to devote much more time to writing, which has been an ambition of mine since childhood. We now divide our time between Scotland and Switzerland. Whilst not a musician (my attempts on the guitar are unlikely to worry John Williams), music has always played a central part in my life.

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