It’s not at all necessary to possess a deep-rooted knowledge of the world of the arts to be made aware of the fact that many of the revered and less well known global examples of literature, visual and graphic art (and not to forget the natural landscape) have provided the inspiration leading to the creation of many fine works, and this is reflected, particularly, in the world of music. “Fingal’s Cave” (A Hebridian Overture) by Mendelssohn, “La Mer” by Debussy, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and, of course, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, The Pastoral, all spring readily to mind.
Architecture, however, seems not to have featured that often as an inspirational cause. “The Great Gate of Kiev”, however, is a notable exception, providing the inspiration for the monumental climax in Mussorgsky’s celebrated composition “Pictures at an Exhibition” and it is in this exalted company where, humbly sits, my simple strophic song, “Old Lady Grey.”
I hope that you may find this account of its creation to hold a little interest and, should the CD come into your hands, you might possibly spot the phrase I borrowed from Debussy’s “La Cathédrale Engloutie” – the sunken cathedral.
Whilst driving through France (en-route to Monte Carlo for the recording of my orchestral contributions to the Jethro Tull album, “Minstrel in the Gallery”) we, i.e. my family and I, had deviated slightly from the motorway to visit Chartres and to see the celebrated Cathedral that has stood there since the very beginning of the 13th century.
It was a Friday in early June and, from the top of a hill some miles from Chartres, I first saw the magnificent spires of the Cathedral, piercing the lingering mist of that summer morning. From that distance, it seemed (for all the world) that the cathedral was sitting regally astride acres and acres of golden corn, bowing gently in deference towards her.
It was a totally unforgettable experience.
On entering the cathedral, I dutifully gave instructions to my family what to do and where to go if anyone became separated. We then made our way into the coolness of the mighty, impressive building which, even in the early morning, was already teeming with visitors of all races and creeds. I was immediately drawn to admiring and studying the intrinsically detailed tracery, the awesome vaulted roof and the perfectly cut joints in the stone columns.
(My hobby at the time and for many years after was bricklaying and masonry and I recall wishing (quite selfishly) that I’d been on my own with all day to spend, feasting my eyes on this impossibly beautiful building, designed and erected to the glory of God and brought up and out of the ground all those centuries ago by an army of mediaeval masons and labourers.
I gradually made my way to the transept and it was while I was there, studying the tracery and the detail of the stained glass of the “South Rose Window” and standing in the shafts of sunlight, that it happened.
“It” was (and still is) one of the most awe inspiring experiences of my life.
Concentrated in absorbing so much of the detail of the window I felt utterly and completely alone. Suddenly and unaccountably cold, I seemed to have moved into a parallel universe within that ancient place, but no longer assaulted by the continuous “Clicking” of cameras and the irritating, garrulous exhortations of the tourists, but enshrouded, now, by an eerie silence.
Then, new distant sounds fell about my ears. They seemed to come from high, high above me; from the uttermost heights of the vaulted roof. Cries of anguish and despair – the invocations of people in distress.
Then I saw them; the ghosts of the men and women who’d given their lives (and for some, their life) for the building of the cathedral. They were perched like frightened sparrows in the furthest corners of the vaulted roof – and then, in an instant, they were gone: disappeared, and, with them, their muted cries.
Who could I tell of this? Who would believe me? …….and then, breaking this strange silence, there returned the harsh counterpoint of camera shutters and the incessant whisperings in strange, unrecognisable vowels.
Though it had seemed much longer, I had been in that place for but a short time and was brought quickly back to my senses with the urgent realisation that it was me – not one of my young children – who’d managed to lose myself, and that my family were probably anxiously searching for me.
I soon found them – together, safe and gathered in the place I’d designated and, smilingly, took in good heart their gentle mocking of me. We made our way out of the cathedral and to our vehicle, Maggie taking the children to buy cold drinks.
Still stunned by my recent, incomparable, and almost life-changing experience, I sat in the car, took out my lyric book and wrote:
I came to see you yesterday, my dear.
I walked into your womb and touched upon your soul
on Friday - sad day.
I saw you in your morning majesty.
A poppy midst the acres of the rye.
Don’t try to fool me with your dreadful piety:
The melodies came into my mind as I wrote each phrase of the lyric.
(Some months later, back in England, I completed the song.)
December 6th 2017
Click on the arrow of the audio player to listen to an excerpt of Old Lady Grey