In 1985 Michael Harlow published his book of poems Vlaminck’s Tie (Auckland University Press). Even before the publication we had celebrated the title-poem:

Philip, Brigitte, Michael and Fiona all wearing wooden ‘Vlaminck’s Ties’—Christchurch, 1983

These settings were begun soon after our arrival in Switzerland in 1985. At this time I was especially fascinated with mirror forms and so the whole cycle was planned as one big mirror (unlike Poem then, for love in which the individual movements explore different mirroring techniques). No doubt the choice of the texts was also dependent on this formal decision—see below—but the best explanation for this selection is to quote Harlow himself: “One goes into the alphabets of sound and sign looking and listening for this or that and returning sometimes with the altogether other. Not cause to the effect, but with what likes to occur with what, and just now:”

Here then is a graphic representation of the form (‘D’ is self reflecting):

The poems were chosen pairwise to be similar in length and in mood:

  • Vlaminck’s Tie (A) mirrors The art of memory (A')
  • The Kite (B) mirrors Herr Groddeck in a letter to his lady (B') and
  • Gossipmonger (C) mirrors Pensioners (C') and
  • Naming an occasion (D) mirrors itself.

When it was finished for the first time in 1985 I was very unsure if it was really do-able. The very irregular rhythms in the faster movements (B) were very difficult. And so the work lay fallow for some years. By this time I was working entirely on the computer so I set out to revise the whole work and produce at the same time a computer tape that would help the singer to learn it. This revision removed much of the irregularity from the 2. and 6. movements and also corrected some tiny mistakes in the first version. Many problems remain however, above all the extremes of register. I intended the work originally for Nelson Wattie, but in the meantime Nelson had given up singing. So far (July 2017) Vlaminck’s Tie has never been performed.

Vlaminck’s Tie