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Huxley: Opus Pistorum, for Quartet, Horn and Soprano (1954)    Gaza Quartet, Julian Moksha (horn), Marilyn Hay (soprano)   Recorded 1955, mono 1 CD from Blake Records, USA - BK4100 approx. $16 Running time: 46 mins.

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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 University).

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 invention.

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 disc.


Marc Bridle

Blake Records do not have a UK distributor but can be contacted at



Marc Bridle

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