The Music of Simon Holt8:00, 22nd January 2018
Edited by David Charlton
362 pages, £65
‘There is no typical Simon Holt piece,’ writes Philip Rupprecht in one essay in this rich and finely illustrated collection, ‘but it is characteristic of his artistic temperament that each work should address itself to listeners in an uncompromisingly direct way.’ There are indeed many consistencies and enduring preoccupations in ‘subject matter’ underlying Holt’s music, and his work to date has built a clear intellectual and artistic profile. But his tastes and interests in other composers are wide and eclectic, and from his early days he has tended to base much of his sound world on ideas and impressions derived from poetry, art and film.
Perhaps best known among the wide range of English and non-English influences are his transformations of the works of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, starting in Holt’s student days at the Royal Northern College of Music and developing through his career. His former teacher Anthony Gilbert remarks that the musical idiom ‘has changed little’ in the decades following those early years, but has ‘acquired depth, and, where necessary, passion.’
This beautifully produced volume takes the evidence of composers, critics and performers (especially revealing chapters by pianist Stephen Gutman and a conversation on the orchestral pieces between the editor David Charlton and conductor Thierry Fischer) in illuminating Holt’s remarkable varieties of sonic painting. He can make us think in startlingly new ways about ‘colour’ represented through harmonic and chordal statements, or about how narrative can be understood through music – witness his trio of pieces 3 for Icarus. Or consider the arresting rhythmical urgency and balancing pathos of his Tauromaquia, the piano essay inspired by Goya’s etchings. Holt figures in person in the book in a searching conversation with Julia Bardsley, ranging over important questions of drama, visual arts and the role of music in portraying imagery, and in a final authoritative catalogue of works compiled with the editor.
This is altogether a splendid homage to an extraordinary creative talent, and an invaluable accompaniment to the actual aural testimony of his compositions.