Some of the most fascinating musical discoveries often come from the most
surprising of sources. This CD, from the enterprising US label, Blake
Records, unearths what has long been thought a lost treasure: Aldous
Huxley's only musical composition known to survive (although various sketches
for piano and violin pieces are known to exist in the archives at Berkeley
Huxley is more famous as a novelist and essayist, but he was also an accomplished
musician. Opus Pistorum, written for the playwright Arthur Miller's
40th birthday, is a shattering work that plummets the depths of despair and
rises to the frenzied heights of ecstatic liberation. The work owes much
to Brahms' Horn Trio, particularly for that work's impulsive passion and
glowing introspection. Serialism, however, has passed Huxley by completely,
the opening melody of the long, second movement adagio being a clear refrain
from the opening of the second movement of Dvorak's 'New World'
Symphony. There is a clear inner feeling in this movement of time having
stopped, the counter point often deliciously evocative of many a summer,
the season where Huxley often felt most inspired and at ease, and from which
this work stems.
The string writing is enormously powerful, changing between the pillars of
Bachian opulence (with its chromatic textures) and an almost Schubertian
lyricism. The Gaza Quartet play this music with considerable skill, the mono
recording revealing a depth of tone astonishing for the period. But it is
the last movement, the longest of the work, that gives forth the greatest
Scored for a single violin, horn and soprano it is a formidable achievement.
Huxley marks in his score for this movement (pages of which are reproduced
in the excellent booklet accompanying this disc) that the tone of the horn
should be a 'chrome yellow', and this is precisely the effect the horn player,
Julian Moskha, achieves. The low register of much of the scoring helps garner
this effect, the crystalline clarity of Brahms' horn writing here transposed
into something more sinister and dark. By contrast, the violin writing is
often stratospheric, the G string never being used at all, the three octaves
above middle C being used to terrifying effect. The soprano sings her lines,
'Beauty for some provides escape,/who gain a happiness in eyeing/the gorgeous
buttocks of the ape/or Autumn sunsets exquisitely dying' as a circular motif,
repeating several lines often, some just once. Marilyn Hay's rich tone is
again beautifully captured.
There are clear signs in this work that the mescaline Huxley was taking at
the time was providing him with a very fertile, and creative, imagination.
Opus Pistorum moves between heaven and hell in equal measure, but
it remains an enormously compelling and perceptive piece of writing, here
given in a performance it would be hard to better. I strongly recommend this
Blake Records do not have a UK distributor but can be contacted at