Benjamin Britten, Turn of the Screw
After Christopher Palmer and Myfanwy Piper
Each variation on the twelve-tone row
turns a a dissonant screw on tonality
so home keys seem unheimlich,
common chords other-worldly,
perfect fourths Diabolus in musica.
Children’s voces angelicae
turn Benedicite’s cross upside down
and Lavender’s Blue’s all too blue.
Their governess is lost in a labyrinth
of scales from faux-Mozart Sonatas,
leading nowhere but dead-ends
while Quint’s sybaritic melisma
is leading us to a gamelan lake
where innocence is drowned
far from C major’s haunted house
and Miles’s sad little song:
Malo: I would rather be
Malo: in an apple tree
Malo: than a naughty boy
Malo: in adversity
Jonathan Taylor is an author, editor, lecturer and critic. His books include the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007), and the poetry collection Musicolepsy (Shoestring, 2013). He directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk.
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