ward de jonghe

σιδήρειος – etude 2 for piano solo

duration: ca 4’30”

written in 2023 for Concours de Composition Andrée Charlier, winner of 1st prize

first performance: 2023-10-22 by all contestants at master level of Concours de Piano Andrée Charlier, Charleroi

view score

©Nic Vermeulen

programme note: 

The Ancient Greek word σιδήρειος (sidḗreios), meaning ‘made of iron’, is taken from a verse of Homer’s Iliad which translates into “So they fought on, and the iron din went up through the unresting air to the brazen heaven”. The quote is found near the turning point in the whole story, where Achilleus’ closest friend, Patroklos, is killed by Hektor. Due to this, Achilleus, fully aware that it will cause his own death, will pick up his arms, kill Hektor and cause the Achaeans to triumph. Their friendship thus transcends the whole political situation, even life itself, but decides the fate of history. In a personal overinterpretation, this friendship leaving the world behind was connected to the phrase describing the sound rising above the earth. Though far-fetched, it made me love that sentence.

Iron is of course the name of a metal, but can also be a symbol for machines, industrialisation and not in the least arms and war. Iron is the most common element in our planet, which in this interpretation is a harsh truth. Though being lucky enough to have no personal experience of war, reading this war epic felt relatable and appealing, not so different from a fascination towards dangerous predators or the inhospitable corners of the world. Perhaps the harsh aspect of (human) nature resonates with a usually hidden, cruel “iron” core of man, and this is why things that frighten us can be beautiful.

Such thoughts came while thinking about concepts for the percussion concerto Se/Fe, as  the drum is historically linked with war. I decided to write a piano piece as preliminary work where the iron din is translated into a rough piano sound, an nearly unstoppable flow of notes, a high degree of dissonance and a lack of clear metre. An attempt was made to have delicate sounds emerging naturally from an inherently hostile situation, by transforming musical material, as a representation of this world renouncing friendship, or seeing beauty in something terrible or frightening.

That all being said, I would like to emphasise that the text of Homer and the above interpretations and symbols are a personal train of thought, which in some way or another helped to decide which notes to put on paper, and that there was no intention to literally depict the story of Patroklos or the sound of iron. I invite any performer and listener to make up their own interpretation of the music.