Drowned Summer

for piano

Francis Pott

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for piano

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Composer Francis Pott
Year of Composition 2018
Duration ca.12'
ISMN 9790570682737
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-fp1ds1


Almost everything about this piece is elusive. Uniquely amidst my output of compositions, it has undergone three revisions, having been first attempted in 1984 and then rewritten in 1987, 2006 and 2018; so the struggle towards definitive form and content has been a lengthy one. Then there is the title: aptly for reasons which will become apparent, Drowned Summer is a phrase which I believe I encountered in a poem somewhere many years ago, but which I can no longer locate and am beginning to believe I may have dreamt. Not only does it match the music in this score, but it went some way towards actually suggesting the sounds of all four versions. Like its predecessors, the published score seeks to evoke indistinct echoes of successive summer seasons, all coalescing in a single haze of partial recollection. Two poetic superscriptions encapsulate this intention: first, a phrase uprooted from Dejection – a poem by the sixteen-year-old Keith Douglas, a staggeringly precocious poet killed on active service in Libya in 1944 at the age of twenty four:

…yesterday travellers in summer’s country…

and, secondly, the following fragment from a poem (one of several entitled simply Song) by Dame Edith Sitwell:

We are the summer’s children, the breath of evening, the days
When all may be hoped for, – we are the unreturning
Smile of the lost one, seen through the summer leaves…

The music extends its subtext further by being, in part, a much-delayed imaginative response to Alain-Fournier’s hauntingly beautiful novel about love, memory and coming of age, Le Grand Meaulnes, which I first read in the original French as a sixth-former in the early 1970s. Lost deep in the French countryside, its eponymous hero becomes accidental interloper at a nocturnal carnival party taking place within an ancient château, falling fatefully in love after a chance encounter. The elusive ‘domaine mystérieuse’ later proves impossible to find again, its dream-like memory becoming in a sense more real than the immediacy of the original experience. Edwin Muir once wrote that ‘Our memories are real in a different way from the real things we try to resuscitate’. It was this order of shadowy, half-invented, halfremembered reality that provided the catalyst for Drowned Summer, and it is for that reason that both its enigmatic, untraceable title and the obstinately provisional content of its first three drafts seem part and parcel of the creative idea itself. With the fourth version I feel I have finally laid something to rest, but I hope nonetheless that this music may still communicate to the listener a kind of sonic ‘domaine mystérieuse’: something forever eluding capture.