This short work is the second in a cycle of pieces I have been writing over the last year which take visual and poetic sources as their inspiration.
Somehow I came across a stunning pair of painted screens by the Japanese artist Hasegawa Tōkahu. Shōrin-zu byōbu - Pine Trees are a matched set of screens which match an incredible technical control with a highly evocative sense of space. This use of space can be linked to the concept of “Ma” - structural space which gives greater impact and form to that which it surrounds. Though these paintings may have originally been used practically as folding doors for a temple, their significance in the history of representation in Japanese art is notable given that they are likely the first examples in their scale of a large landscape which takes only pine trees as their subject matter, and appear totally devoid of figures, or civilization.
Though the sparse and beautifully desolate mood of the paintings informed the musical character and landscape of my work, there were more detailed conclusions to draw from them which informed the structure of Hasegawa Sketch. Firstly, the pine trees depicted fall loosely into four clusters, arranged proportionally across the two screens. Even when the position of the screens is switched (it isn’t known exactly which way around is the “correct” way) they retain this structure, and with it, their powerful evocation of landscape. Secondly, Hasegawa conveys the depth of the forest with only the minimum of technical means - no more than three shades of paint tones to show layers of trees behind one another, using only the simplest strokes to suggest the character of pine needles. My piece then falls into four sections, and each one presents a challenge to the pianist in pulling a simple melodic line through different layered textures of sound.
This piece is dedicated to Andrew Zhou in friendship and admiration.