Laurence Crane on creating his new work: Pieces About Art

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 19:30

Laurence Crane, composition teacher at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, transforms rejection into inspiration for his new work Pieces About Art. Here he tells us about how the piece and how it explores the relationship between music, text, composers and artists. The work is performed as part of Southbank Centre’s New Music Biennial in July.

Pieces About Art was commissioned in 2014 by EXAUDI vocal ensemble, supported by the Britten-Pears Foundation, and is dedicated to EXAUDI’s director James Weeks and the singers in the ensemble.

Pieces About Art Manuscript

In my previous music for voice I had always written or compiled the texts myself but for this work I decided that I wanted to set a text written by someone else. A friend drew my attention to a steel sculpture, made by a famous American artist in 1968. The artist had engraved a short text directly onto the sculpture. I liked the repetitive and minimal nature of this text and thought that it would work well in my piece, so in July 2014 I set about trying to get permission from the artist to use the text. 

After several false starts I ended up writing to the Artists Rights Society in New York, who handle these matters for the artist. Eventually I received an email refusing me permission to use the artist's words. I therefore decided to write a text loosely based on the email received from the Artists Rights Society; this is what I set in ‘Artist Refuses Request’, the first movement of Pieces About Art.

John Stezaker Whitechapel Gallery catalogue
Image from John Stezaker retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery, 2011

Later that month I had lunch with the writer Michael Bracewell, a friend of many years. He alluded to some of the problems of writing about art. I asked Michael if he would allow me to set a piece of his prose writing and he agreed. The main body of the text that I set in the second movement of Pieces About Art - which is titled ‘Writing About Art’ - is taken from Michael's essay on the work of the British artist John Stezaker. Originally written for the catalogue of Stezaker's 2011 retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, it is also reproduced in Michael Bracewell's collection of essays The Space Between, published by Ridinghouse.

Michael Bracewell's 'The Space Between'
Michael Bracewell’s collection of essays The Space Between

In ‘Artist Refuses Request’ there is a loose narrative about the struggle to get permission to set a text. Other words that I have written for ‘Writing About Art’, and use in conjunction with extracts from Michael Bracewell's essay on John Stezaker, hint at a narrative about the struggle to effectively write about art. Whatever the results of these two struggles, it's possible to say that both movements of my work for EXAUDI are, in some way or another, 'about' art.

Laurence Crane

On Saturday 8 July you can hear Laurence Crane’s new work performed live at Royal Festival Hall and get more insights into the music with a short Q&A session.