James Dillon Premiere : 'The Leuven Triptych' for the Ictus Ensemble, Transit New Music Festival Leuven

The Ictus Ensemble will give the world premiere of a new work by James Dillon at The Transit Festival in Leuven, Belgium on 23 October.

Online PR News – 09-October-2009 – – The Ictus Ensemble will give the world premiere of a new work by James Dillon at The Transit Festival in Leuven, Belgium on 23 October. The work was Commissioned by Ictus Ensemble, Bruxelles, BBC Radio 3 and Transit New Music Festival, Leuven

Dillon writes:

The triptych [from Greek tri- ‘three’ + ptychē ‘fold’] holds for me a certain fascination. Perhaps it’s the symbolism, perhaps the symmetry? I first explored the triptych in the early 1980s. In principle I differentiate the triptych as a three-fold work from the simple tripartite design. Originally the term was used for the 'folding' three-leaved wax writing tablets of Ancient Rome which were written on with a stylus and thus could be erased and overwritten.

The commission was to make a connection between a new work and Rogier Van der Weyden of course I was not interested in any representational relationship with his work. The first painting that came to mind was Van der Weyden’s famous ‘Descent from the Cross’, which I had spent a little time (there’s never enough time of course) looking at in the Prado some years ago. Later I was reminded of his triptych in the Louvre known as 'The Braque Triptych', with its folding panels and bleak inscription. Inscriptions on paintings of this period are not uncommon and one can only speculate as to their function one aspect of this is how they might influence our understanding of the painting or supplement the pictorial narrative, to heighten the narrative content of the work certainly influences our reading of a painting. I have for example long wondered about disordered use of 'letraset'* in what I assume are allusions to these renaissance inscriptions in the great Francis Bacon triptychs of the
1960's and 70's.

One aspect of The Leuven Tryptich may be seen as 'open'. Throughout its three movements, the ensemble is invited to inscribe onto the musical text vocal utterances from contemporaries of Van der Weyden these 'utterances' may be pre-recorded, live or a mixture of the two. Various non musical texts are available to the ensemble, which they may choose to 'fold' into their 'reading' of the musical text. Potentially of course this could have a radical effect on the overall sound world of the work unless a degree of agreement is reached by the musicians. The texts come from Van der Weyden's time, for example, Alberti's treatise 'On Painting' (De Pictura) or Nicolas de Cusa's 'Learned Ignorance (docta ignorantia). In addition a segment of the motet Ave Regina Coelorum by (Van der Weyden’s contemporary) Guillaume Dufay appears in the first section of the work.

The first movement of my triptych consists of two groups of 6 + 6 tableau-like moments. The first group is dominated by a changing figuration which runs through the whole work. The Dufay motet appears in the second group, in quasi-antique style. The musical material is then ‘folded back’ into the material from the first group. The second movement, the longest of the three, itself falls into four parts like the four compasses of the cross. However, the journey is longer and less subject to change. The third movement mirrors the opening movement and divides into two parts (rather than groups); mirror images are reflected through glass-like timbres.