Dorothy Bradford’s painting Goddess is unusual in the artist’s output in its subject matter. In shades of blue and grey, on a large canvas, it depicts a reclining female figure – sensuous, beguiling and pre-occupied. Her gaze out to camera, as it were, summons up a set of contrasting moods. I was drawn to this painting when considering which one to choose as the basis for the music.
The viola seemed to be the perfect instrument to portray the Goddess, with its opening three note chromatic figure being a kind of leitmotif, around which is weaved a variety of musical emotions – wistful one moment, ecstatic the next. The music begins and ends on the pitch of ‘A’, and has a tripartite structure, with an opening ‘quasi recitativo’ followed by a highly lyrical middle section; here, a brief quotation from the opening of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the ultimate symbol in musical terms of doomed love, seemed natural and unforced.
The final section takes the material of the opening recitative, transforming it into a simple modal melody over a four-bar ground bass (I had Purcell’s famous ‘Dido’s Lament’ in mind when I decided to use this particular musical device). However, my ‘lament’ moves towards an ecstatic climax before descending once again into the chromatic uncertainty and isolation of the very opening.