Roger Marsh Composer


Black Hair commissioned this piece from Edward Jessen in 2008 for a concert at the National Centre for Early Music, York, as part of the York Late Music festival.  The commission was to create a piece no longer than three minutes for any two members of the ensemble. Pieces were also composed by Giles Easterbrook, Kerry Andrew and Damien Harron. The idea was that these short pieces would be ‘link’ pieces between larger items in the concert. The four pieces which resulted were all brilliant and very different from one another.

Ed chose to write for Anna (voice) and Catherine (piano), but the piece he wrote called for each of them to use their voice and to play a toy piano. The pianos which Ed provided for this were remarkable instruments; quite large and upright, they required the performer to kneel to play them. In Companion, the two performers kneel across from and facing one another. They exchange fragments from two texts which never quite get pieced together, but which seem to describe or derive from a personal column or lonely hearts ad.

Very Beckett-like, the piece worked perfectly in our concert and there was no doubt that it would become part of our repertoire.  Thus we programmed it for an important concert later that year, at the Warehouse in London as part of the BMIC’s ‘Cutting Edge’ tour. It should have been a tour, but we only got the London concert for reasons I can’t remember. Ed announced that, if we didn’t mind, he intended to add two more instruments -violin and cello- but that we shouldn’t worry because this would necessitate hardly any additional rehearsal, since the part for strings would proceed independently of the two pianos, with no co-ordination required on the part of the principal performers. The two layered piece was even more intriguing and satisfying than the first version and we performed it that way thereafter at a number of subsequent concerts.

Then sometime later, while working at the RCM in London, Ed created a film version of the piece, with the same Black Hair performers, but now adding a third layer in the form of a black and white video in which the newspaper ads (perhaps) scroll across the screen accompanied by machine noises, giving the piece a new dimension and greater weight.

I used the piece often in teaching thereafter, as an example of the development of an idea in stages, and the potential virtues of simultaneous uncoordinated actions.  As in John Cage’s anecdote about the underwater swimmers accompanied by the café juke box, the separate layers work perfectly together as though precisely choreographed.

Score and Video