The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

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Mandala 1 for Wind Quintet.

The first performance of Mandala 1 was given by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by David Atherton at a BBC Invitation Concert in Durham in 1970.

Throughout the piece there is an entire absence of foreground pulse (beat) and metre. Shapes float across one another, reflect one another, sometimes collide with, and refract one another; isolated tones hang suspended in the air; no sooner do two or three instruments come together, but they ripple off into their own time-field. This lack of regularity sometimes takes the music to the bounds of playability in terms of ensemble.

I first heard the music of this piece while watching the tide recede over the sand banks near Dymchurch, Kent, one summer evening in 1967. The slowly changing colours of the sky reflected in the glistening sand; the patterns of the sand reflected in the shapes of the clouds; the gentle ripples of the wavelets crossing and re-crossing one another, all evoked a counterpoint of colour (timbre), texture, gesture. There were no clocks ticking away; everything was caught up in the timeless resonance of the most distant heartbeats.

I’ve yet to find a comprehensive definition of the Sanskrit word ‘mandala’. It’s not that the word is vague; on the contrary, from its ambiguities grow a cluster of rich, specific meanings. In English, it usually refers to a picture, a combination of a square and a circle, divided and re-divided, at its centre an image (usually a Buddha) which proliferates symmetrically and transforms asymmetrically. As a picture it may be painted on paper or cloth, or drawn with devoted precision on the sand. It may be a spiral dance through the four quarters of a squared space; the spiral may be in-turning or outward turning. It may be any combination of these things. Whatever its context, the word remains precise in its function: to express and explore wholeness – unity in diversity, diversity in unity.

I’ve never set out to compose a mandala. Each of my works bearing this name has taken its place in the set after it was composed. They are very different in character, from chamber ensemble to large orchestra, from the cool suspension of this work, to the glistening whirlwind of Mandala 5; but they are linked by the single-minded way each has grown from a brief, central musical image into a larger musical space through iteration and a diversity of transformations.