Part 1:  Letter from Paul White, a retired conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, when asked to take an iconic composition by an iconic composer and reverse it.
Hi Stephen,

It seems to me that the wish to put a well-known piece of art through a  different aspect of time (by reversing) is really like pushing against the three-dimensional world of our common experience.

Isaac Newton questioned why the apple fell up - from that we are made aware of gravity. Later Einstein adds to this with his theory of relativity, in turn later refined more by Stephen Hawkings, and our concept of who we are is constantly set against space-time.  These “scientific” dimensions of existence are confounded by man’s constant quest for the “beyond” - his spiritual / artistic side, and this dimension cannot be measured in scientific terms.

So to play a well-known piece of music (Beethoven’s 5th Symphony) backwards reminds me of Newton’s apple moment.  Why can’t our artistic language go “the other way” and defy the expectations of our daily experience?  I have been thinking of this for the last couple of days, and come to the conclusion that, like space-time, anything is possible and that  to reverse time and also turn it upside down would be more telling.  We can only turn the music upside down by inverting the pitches etc. but this leads to technical problems - instruments would need to be substituted for others which would result in a difference to the composer’s intentions of sonority. Also, the chordal progressions would subvert the functions of harmony where there is a formal progression of sounds which our ears appreciate. Add to that melody - where again our ears hear coherent progressions, and we might conclude that to play them backwards would take away this “artistic” experience , at least where Beethoven is concerned as he is writing tonal music (in this case in C minor). Edmund Rubbra noted this (Counterpoint, Hutchinson 1960) when discussing Guillaume de Machaut’s use of canon in Ma fin est mon commencement” and saying that..

    "it can suggest the idea of the obliteration or reversal of time, as when Guillaume de Mauchaut writes a backward canon…..”

However, he adds that music ..

    “.. can never do anything but go forwards even if the given tune is reversed…”

Of course, with the advent of atonality in the early 20th century, the music was conceived much more scientifically and tone-rows appeared in inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion with no conflict over the artistic experience.

It seems to me that I could score the symphony in retrograde (backwards), but this would entail editorial issues related to notation - all solvable.

Or I could go the full hog and invert the score too. This would be more of an undertaking as I would need to find an instrument to play what was originally a high note at a lower pitch without destroying the integrity of Beethoven’s intentions. The easiest way is to keep the families of instruments together, i.e. strings remain strings, woodwind remains woodwind, etc.

All this is very interesting, particularly as I am reading a book the moment on Gravity by Brian Clegg (and what bedtime reading it makes!).

I can only add that in the introduction to his famous book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawkings says..

    “few of us spend much time wondering why nature is the way it is; where the cosmos comes from, or whether it was always here; if time will one day flow backward and effects precede causes; or whether there are ultimate limits to what humans can know.”

I don’t know of these initial thoughts and observations attune to what you two have in mind. One needs to be robust in one’s quest here if one is not to come over as pretentious or posturing. I could get going on initial sound bites…let me know.

Best wishes,


PS. I have a nano-connection with three of the names above: Rubbra was one of my lecturers in the 60s (which is when I bought his book), Hawkings accompanied me to a surrealist opera in London in the 70s, and I was at Isaac Newton’s house only a couple of weeks ago, looking at the apple tree (it’s only seven miles from Stamford). So my mind is stirred! Was this to be…but of quantum physics here….
Part 3:  Evolution of community and mind change originating from the experience.
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