Waste Land Music

Waste Land Music

The Waste Land (T.S. Eliot). Music commissioned by the Apollo Society. First performed by Intermodulation, 14 July 1970.

1. Programme notes from second performance by Intermodulation in Park Lane Group series on 12 October 1970 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

T. S. Eliot’s note on The Waste Land:
Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Jessie L. Weston’s book on the Grail legend From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston’s book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough: I have used especially the two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognise in the poem certain reference to vegetation ceremonies.
The poem was written in 1922 and is dedicated to Ezra Pound, ‘il miglior fabbro’

Composer’s note

The music for this reading of The Waste Land is scored for electronic synthesizer, electric organ with modulation, piano with modulation and soprano saxophone with tape delay system. The music falls into six sections which span the five sections of the Eliot’s The Waste Land. There are three pairs of movements, each pair beginning with the same music, but diverging widely from each other as the music progresses. In these three unidentical pairs is embodies the idea of the sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of three acient gods, Osiris, Tammuz and Attis. With certain restrictions the six sections can be arranged round the poem in any order.

The order of this performance was:

Osiris I, Tammuz I, Tammuz II, Attis I, Attis II, Osiris II

Subsequences performances by Intermodulation also used the order:

Osiris I, Attis I, Tammuz I, Attis II, Tammuz II, Osiris II]

There are no overt references to the text of the poem. Although just as Eliot drew many ideas from Jessie Weston’s book From Ritual to Romance so I have found many sources for music-making in the atmosphere of the sometimes prehistoric rituals and ceremonies which are the source material of her book.

Here are some texts, referring to the sacrifice and resurrection of Osiris, Tammuz, and Attis; the themes are central to the music and to The Waste Land, and are taken from the Bible, The Golden Bough, and from Buddhist scripture:

And it came to pass in the sixth year,
In the sixth month, in the fifth day of the
month, as I sat in mine house and the elders of
Judah sat before me, that the hand of the
Lord God fell upon me.
Then he brought me to the door of the gate of
The Lord’s house which was towards the north;
And behold, there sat the women weeping for

… true son of the deep water…

‘In the great Phoenician sanctuary of Astarte at Byblus the death of Adonis [the Greek equivalent of Tammuz] was annually mourned, to the shrill wailing notes of the flute, with weeping and lamentation, and beating of the breast; but next day he was believed to come to life again and ascend up to heaven in the presence of his worshippers.’

The silver image of the Goddess, with its face of jagged black stone, sat in a wagon drawn by oxen. Preceded by the nobles walking barefoot, it moved slowly, to the loud music of pipes and tambourines, out by the Porta Capena, and so down to the banks of the Almo, which flows into the Tiber just below the walls of Rome. There the high-priest, robed in purple, washed the wagon, the image and the other sacred objects in the water of the stream. On returning from their bath, the wain and the oxen were strewn with fresh spring flowers. All was mirth and gaiety. No one thought of the blood that had flowed so lately.’

Her lament is for a great river, where no willows grow
Her lament is for a firld, where corn and herbs grow not.
Her lament is for a pool, where fishes grow not.
Her lament is for a thicket of reeds, where no reeds grow.

‘In the sacrament the novice became a partaker of the mysteries by eating out of a drum and drinking out of a cymbal, two instruments of music which figured prominently in the thrilling orchestra of Attis.’

‘The lamentations of the two sad sisters were not in vain. In pity for her sorrow the sun-god Ra sent down from heaven the jackal-headed god Anubis, who, with the aid of Thoth and Horus, pieced together the broken body of the murdered god, swathed it in linen bandages, and observed all the other rites which the Egyptians were wont to perform over the bodies of the departed. Then Isis fanned the cold clay with her wings: Osiris revived, and thenceforth reigned as king over the dead in the other world.’

‘All things are on fire; the eye is on fire, forms are on fire, eye-consciousness is on fire; the impressions received by the eye areon fire, and whatever sensation originates in the impressions received by the eye are likewise on fire.’

‘Indra has released the imprisoned waters to flow upon the earth.’

2. TS Programme note

Waste Land Music (1970)

Just as the Eliot poem with its references to Arthurian legend, many world religions, Tarot cards, sacrifice and redemption, sends one back to Jessie Weston’s book From Ritual to Romance, so this book in turn sends one back to the vegetation ceremonies which predate Arthurian legend by thousands of years, to the religions of the ancient world – in fact to Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Part IV of this huge work is devoted to three ancient gods, Adonis, Attis and Osiris. Eliot drew heavily on Frazer in The Waste Land and in the music the two essential elements in the ceremonies surrounding these gods, sacrifice and resurrection, have been taken as the framework for the form. There are six sections of music arranged in three pairs: Osiris I and II, Tammuz I and II, and Attis I and II. The music of each pair of movements is substantially the same, but the ending of the second (resurrection) movement transforms the character of the music with completely new material. The six sections enclose the five sections of Eliot’s poem and is in no way ‘incidental’ to it. The sections can be arranged in many different orders and can be performed independently of the poem. But it is specifically designed to create a tension, in its six-part form, with the five-part form of the poem. The music constantly goads and stimulates the text, rather than flattering and reassuring it. This is the most fruitful relationship for music and poetry.

The Tammuz movements are a lament modelled on Japanese Gagaku music, a literal transcription of which is the starting point for a gradual transformation away from the modal, effected by means of decoration and modulation. The soprano saxophone takes on the role of the Japanese oboe (the hichiriki), and the Japanese mouth-organ (the sho) is imitated by the electric organ. The Japanese flute is played on a generator of the synthesizer and parts for drums and plucked stringed instruments are rendered on the piano (inside – with drum sticks on the frame – and out, respectively).This is the most explicit exotic reference in the work. However, the whole music, I hope, is full of an archetypal, ceremonial, ritualistic feeling, now austere, now orgiastic, in which the ancient legends are steeped. It was this feeling, and the numerous references to music in the legends – it must have accompanied them unceasingly – which suggested much of the music – more so, indeed, than Eliot’s text itself.