Neruda Fragments

Alastair Greig (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


The fragments that act as subtitles for the four short movements of the piece are taken from a poem, La barcarola termina by Pablo Neruda. The first section of the poem describes the poet's first visit to Vietnam in 1928 and then comments on the country's plight some 40 years later. The fragments taken from the poem acted as starting points for musical elaboration and led me to find two sources to explore. The first is a traditional Vietnamese lullaby and the second, rhythmic patterns found in Kesut, an ensemble of players performing using bamboo poles.

The bamboo ensemble is employed to accompany various ceremonies and rituals, in South East Asia, most commonly in Malaysia.

These two elements come together in the third section of the Neruda Fragments. In this section the performer uses the body of the 'cello to produce sound whilst gently tapping the strings with the other hand, this becomes increasingly aggressive and gives way to the lullaby which ends section 3.

The first two sections, la noche and ruidos secretos, introduce the melodic and rhythmic material in various guises which will be developed and distorted in the 3rd and 4th movements.

The last movement, quemando los pies y la musica (..scorching the feet and the music..), is the longest of the four. The music is brutalised, transformed into a more regimented and violent sound world. Whilst the music does not attempt to paint pictures it does reflect the thoughts set out by Neruda in the poem.

The piece ends with a reference to my own first encounter with Vietnam, albeit through the cinema. As a young teenager, in 1978, I was taken to see 'Apocolypse Now', and the opening of the film still haunts my memory. The sound of The Doors' 'The End' finds its way into this piece for solo cello and is just a link to a, I admit somewhat superficial, personal aural fragmented recollection of my own awakening to the brutality of war.

Neruda Fragments was awarded first prize in the Counterpoint-Italy International Composers' Competition. The first performance was in New York, February 2015. The soloist was Daniel Barratt.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherComposers Edition
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2015

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