Dance of Leilah: Dance of Lilith

Some notes on: Dance of Leilah: Dance of Lilith for solo piano (1994, c. 11 mins)

Dance of Leilah: Dance of Lilith is a solo piano piece inspired by Angela Carter’s powerful novel ‘The Passion of New Eve’.  In the book, Leilah and Lilith are the same character transformed – physically, emotionally and intellectually – an absurd paradigm of expediency combined with a tale of revenge in an unstable futuristic world.

‘Dance’ refers to the dance performed by Leilah the seductress, who dances ‘the dance called the End of the World’ to lure Evelyn (the protagonist, later to become Eve) into the power of ‘Mother’ (who implements the transformations).  

Dance of Leilah: Dance of Lilith is dance-like in sections although the focus of the piece is musical transformation.  There are ‘technical’ transformations (mainly motivic) but also, perhaps because the instrument is the piano – full of the resonance of its 19th Century heyday – interpretations of classical musical gestures such as scales, arpeggios, trills and alberti basses, which are given unusual treatments. 

The writing of the work became an exploration of these two source-ideas.  Just as the evolved dances in Classical Style were metaphorical dances – dances of the mind rather than the body – Dance of Leilah: Dance of Lilith seeks to evoke the spirit of dance without the expected symmetry and immedicacy of dance forms.

The desire for a kind of transparent, ‘early piano’ sound (achieved, in part, by using a higher-than-usual tessitura) led to the choice of a major scale as a source from which derivatives were generated in the form of modes (which are largely non-standard in pattern).  Two scales are whole-range, and generated randomly from the lowest to the highest available notes on a concert grand piano. 

The arrangement of scales and modes quite deliberately led to a kind of pseudo-tonality but, in most cases, this does not fulfil ‘classical’ tonal expectations.  The harmony is mostly pantonal which defers a strong sense of tonic, except perhaps at the very end, where the key of C major eventually closes cadentially. 

This ‘pseudo-tonality’ is redolent with playfulness and humour and, although the work has serious intentions in that it attempts to ‘make sense’, it also embraces every opportunity to infuse any apparent ‘conventionality’ with unexpected meanings.