Contents: This Great Society


A dance Under Birds by Jim Boraas

Photo by Joel Bentley

Illustration by Joel Bentley


Thinking about common and influential fantasies, I prepared to write a piece on the theme of fate. Listening to sections of Berlioz's Faust seemed a good place to start. I was drawn first to the "Minuet of the Will o' the Wisps" and the "Dance of the Sylphs," and so began planning my composition on fate as a dance that would closely follow the conventions of a minuet.

Using Berlioz the composer as my general starting point, I found myself reminded of Berlioz the fictional character in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. The novel's account of the death of Berlioz, a literary critic, provided me with a particular instance of fate to consider as I developed the structure of the song.

In Bulgakov's novel, Berlioz is fated to perform what—in my mind—became “A Dance Under Birds.” He follows a predetermined sequence of events that concludes with his slipping in a puddle of sun-flower oil and tumbling beneath an approaching tram car as a line of "black birds were tracing noiselessly" across the sky. Obviously, this is not a dance in the traditional or structured sense of the term. In light of this, my preference shifted to the idea of writing a piece of music evoking the idea of dance without following too closely any specific form.

As a result, the product of my somewhat disjointed reflection on fate did not culminate in a Faustian minuet but rather in a dance of subtle and continuing conflicts: a line of black birds fighting against a gray sky.

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