Jon Lord takes us through To Notice Such Things, track by track.
– The first movement is based on the opening music of the show that we used to do, and the first piece he used to read was a poem by W.H. Auden. I suppose it’s about the triumph of time. It starts out really brave and quite happy and it’s called As I Walked Out One Evening.
It ends in a more bleak manner by warning that ‘…you cannot conquer time.’
– The next piece is called At Court, and this is where I try to imagine John when he was in his glory in the late ‘60s, ‘70s, and the early ‘80s, when he was one of the great barristers of London. He was known for his hugely quick wit and devastating humour, and his love of debate. He also loved women, and so I use the word court not only about the law courts but in courting, as it were. The big tune in the middle is Sir John in love. It’s really about him in those years when he was in his glory. This hugely witty and marvelous man.
– The third movement is called Turville Heath. This is where John lived; its in the Chiltern Hills, not too far from where I live, about three miles. He lived his whole life there in the house that his father built. That’s where he was born and it was where he died. It is about Sir John just waltzing gently around his garden there, which his father also loved.
– The Stick Dance describes events much later in John’s life. He eventually lost the use of his legs, and in the few years before that he had to walk with a stick. He had loved dancing, but of course by then he couldn’t. So he would stand there with his stick in one hand, and in the other would be the hand of a young woman who was doing all the jiving. He was standing there enjoying the view. The piece tries to conjure up that vision. At the end of it of course he gets a little out of breath even just from standing there, and he has to sit down. The music gets slower and eventually subsides into the next movement.
– The Winter of a Dormouse is a picture of John’s last winter, which was a hard time for everyone who knew him – but one can only imagine how it must have been for him.
– It ends with a movement called Afterwards, which is the last poem that John used to read in his show. It’s a poem by Thomas Hardy in which the poet tries to imagine what people might say about him after he’s gone. John used to end the show by saying that he would read the poem in memory of his father, and then he would say “Or perhaps as an epitaph for me.” This piece is based on the music that I used to play while that poem was being read.
– It ends sadly but I hope that it’s also uplifting, and that it shows that although he is gone, the memory of him is bright and clear and good, and we still smile about him. That’s the feeling of the piece for me. It’s another one of my autumnal pieces.
But even with the sad ending, the overriding emotion from the whole album is a very uplifting feeling.
– That was Sir John. His character pervades the whole album – even though the last three pieces are not written about him. The whole album really has come together as a result of writing about him, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m very happy about it.
The new album contains three additional pieces; Evening Song, For Example and Air On the Blue String.
– The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s executive director Andrew Cornall, suggested doing Evening Song. I asked who was going to sing it, but he suggested doing it as an instrumental. So I replaced the vocal line with alto flute and French horn, and off we went.
– I’m pleased with it. It’s emerged as a very warm piece, and it still says much the same thing as the words say. It wasn’t something I was particularly expecting to do, just one of those unusual requests and when I did it, and I heard it almost for the first time as we were recording it, it was an uplifting experience as well. It was also a completely new experience. I have never arranged one of my songs as an instrumental before. It was a different discipline and an enjoyable one. It’s given me an idea for another couple of instrumental things based on songs.
– The next track is For Example, which started life as a little piano piece dedicated to my friends, The Trondheim Soloists and to their musical director Øyvind Gimse. This has now become something very, very different and a much bigger piece. It’s firstly an homage to Edward Grieg, a composer, who very much inspired me when I was young. But it’s become more than that. It’s become an elegy for my piano teacher, Frederick Alt, who was a very troubled man and didn’t have an easy life. He introduced me to Grieg and it’s something to do with those forgotten, long ago years in my early teens.
– So it’s grown into a much bigger piece than it started out as two or three years ago, and I’m about as pleased with it as with anything else I’ve ever written. It came very quickly when I started working on it for the album with this new way of looking at it. It just grew.
– I sort of realized it as I was writing it that it was obviously about more than just Edward Grieg and my debt to him. It was much wider and deeper than that, and I became aware that I was paying my respects to someone who gave me so much, and that I didn’t obviously realize at the time.
– When I stopped taking piano lessons and left Leicester and moved on in my life, I didn’t think too much about Frederick. I became aware a few years later that he had died in difficult circumstances and I suppose I was just trying to touch that.
The time in Jon Lord’s life that inspired For Example actually isn’t too far removed from what inspired Boom of the Tingling Strings.
– The first movement of Boom is about me being a very young boy and just remembering those early musical influences, like aunties playing the piano and that kind of thing. In a way For Example comes in between movements one and two of Boom of the Tingling Strings – or somewhere in there because the second movement of Boom is me down in London having managed to escape and finding my way.
– It’s awfully difficult to say exactly what a piece of music is about because in the end it doesn’t have to be about anything. Music only has to be about itself, and if it touches you, you can paint the pictures yourself. It doesn’t really need the composer to pre-paint the pictures for you, but sometimes it’s useful to know what the composer has in his mind. And a listener may say ‘No, it doesn’t do any of that.’ Of course you as a listener, for example, you didn’t know my piano teacher, you didn’t know Edward Grieg, but you’ve heard Grieg’s music so that might be a point of contact. But it doesn’t matter what it’s about. What matters is whether it touches you. And you paint your own pictures.
– The listener should be encouraged to just let the music take him or her however it will. The thing is, with For Example, I’m not exactly sure what the images in my mind were because the music arrived almost as what you might call absolute music. I wasn’t actually painting pictures as I was writing it; it was just flowing out. That’s why I’m so pleased with it because it was only when I first heard it played and recorded that I realized more fully what it might be about. And so I was fascinated by that process – it’s not a process that has necessarily happened that easily before. So I was thrilled to bits with that.
– Air on the Blue String is anotherl piano piece that grew. It’s dedicated to cellist Matthew Barley who, through a remark he made about asking a young cello player to consider listening to the blues or perhaps even trying to improvise – or call it playing off the page – and that this might help him with his interpretation of Bach.
– Now, whether anybody else would agree with that remark of Matthew’s I don’t know, but the thought behind it set my creative juices flowing.
– So all in all, considering that at the beginning of this year – well, February or March – I wasn’t aware that I was going to make this album. Suddenly there it is. I like it when that happens – when things spring out unexpectedly, out of nowhere almost.
Afterwards is the album’s final track. It features Jeremy Irons reading Thomas Hardy’s poem of the same title with Jon Lord on piano.
Read also: Interview part 1 – To notice such music
Come back to JonLord.org to read the next parts of this interview – about Jon Lord’s busy schedule in 2009 and future plans.