Widdershins (le monde merveilleux du Marquis de Sade)

for virtual tape and amplified saxophone quartet (with or without live signal processing

The main title (always spelled in upper case), was written in December 2009 on commission from the QUASAR Saxophone quartet of Montréal.  The commission was made possible by a grant from The Alberta Foundation for the Arts.  The work is dedicated to said Quartet in recognition and appreciation of their incredible artistry and technical mastery.

The adverb "widdershins" means literally 'in the direction reverse to the course of the Sun', 'counterclockwise'.  Traditionally, such movement has been understood as unlucky, giving more strength to the forces of darkness, and has often been used in casting harmful spells. At the same time, this contrary movement—contrary to the current state of affairs—could be employed against the prevailing evil, against black magic; for instance, it could be used to stop a period of misfortune and bring good luck back. 

And hence the premise of the piece, based on the opposition found within the linguistic sphere and the system of connotations of the word 'widdershins'.  This is all made clear, one can hope, by the subtitle, referring to the unusual, dramatic life of Marquis Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740 – 1814), a man torn between darkness and light, despair and hope, extreme viciousness and kindness – like many of us, like reality itself, always.

I deeply believe that there are two forces within us (if we be a macrocosm, reflection of cosmos), a positive one and the other destructive. We are still learning how to cope with them, especially the latter. This opposition is ever-present in the piece, which, at least at first, seems—and this is intended—neither entirely life-affirming nor wholly given to absolute oppression. Most likely, the music itself, enhanced by the virtual tape part, sounds like a psychotic mixture of cruel, ruthless aggression, pain, protest, despair – and unrestrained, bizarre pleasure.  But is this pleasure only bizarre; is there no light?

Piotr Grella-Mozejko
12 January 2010