Bodhisattva

For Violin I, Violin II, Viola and Violoncello.

Performed in Cambridge at West Road Concert Hall on 2nd November 2015 by the Ligeti Quartet.

For many people, powerful art is characterised by themes of war and conflict, anger and revenge, or fear and strong desires. For some, something like the opening to Beethoven's fifth symphony would be among the most powerful pieces ever written. For me, however, power comes just as frequently, and possibly even more easily, with art that inspires stillness and deep calm, hidden, stifled emotions or brings to mind the simple beauty of nature or the strangeness of an enchanting dream.

This piece seeks to convey the unimaginable gentleness and compassion of the Bodhisattva, (from Bodhi, awakening and Sattva, being), a person who is believed, in many Buddhist traditions, to be enlightened. However, due to their compassion, it is also said that they choose to be reborn to help others who are suffering. It is said that the gentleness of the Bodhisattva is their greatest strength and I feel that this idea is as powerful, if not more so, as the more traditional interpretations of power I have described above.

I felt that the richness of the string quartet was ideal for my purpose: due to my synaesthesia, it is always important for me that my music engages as many of my senses as possible, not just that of sound; it tends to be very visual for me as well, with the dynamic, timbre and emotion of each note affecting the colour I perceive in it: the main colours I have chosen to use in the piece are deep purples and blues, dark greens and silver. Thus, for me, it brings to mind suffering and sadness, but also hope and, particularly towards the end of the piece when the cello is high above the first violin (creating the clarity of the silver), the ideas of insight and enlightenment.

Notes

This piece is a string quartet I wrote for the Cambridge Young Composer of the Year Competition 2015, in which I was highly commended. The given theme was power and resistance. I decided to write about the bodhisattva. In Buddhism, this is a person who, though spiritually advanced enough to be enlightened, chooses to delay this out of unimaginable compassion for, and a desire to help, beings who are suffering. It is said that their greatest strength and only weapon as spiritual warriors is their gentleness, hence the connection with the theme.

Judge’s Comments

Class: 15-17 years

Title of work: Bodhisattva

String Quartet

'This piece features some very nicely heard chords, a strong sense of tranquillity and some pleasing musical pacing. The way the seemingly totally singular bars align to form musical phrases (e.g. 1-4, 5-9, 10-14) recalls the non-graphic music of Morton Feldman'.

Ewan Campbell, Judge of The Cambridge Young Composer of The Year 2015.

Audio

Score

Bodhisattva score: page 1 Bodhisattva score: page 2 Bodhisattva score: page 3 Bodhisattva score: page 4