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June 14, 2013 / robinswood

A fascinating observation…

A_Love_Supreme

I recently received an email message from Dr. Keith Davies Jones, which included a truly fascinating observation. The message began with the kind of feedback that does a writer’s heart good:

Over the last few days I have much enjoyed reading your insightful book God’s Mind in that Music. Fifty years ago my friends and I listened to the latest Coltrane albums; we sat mostly on the floor and discussed what we thought might be going on in that music. It never was easy listening. We didn’t really understand it too much then, a bit more now probably. It still sounds as powerful and challenging as it ever did; for me your writing has opened new pathways to its understanding. Thank you.

Yet it was in what followed that things got really interesting:

Listening again just now to A Love Supreme I was struck for the first time by the fact that the theme of the 3rd section “Pursuance” is identical to the theme that permeates the Second Symphony of Henri Dutilleux. Probably coincidence… Dutilleux’s piece premiered in Boston in December 1959. Might Coltrane have heard it ? The “program” of Dutilleux’s work is stated in the terms “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” – which of course are powerful questions that we all may have asked at one time or another.

I responded by saying that it is not at all out of the question that Coltrane might have been familiar with with the Dutilleux symphony, particularly if it was easily available as an LP record, and that many of the jazz musicians of that period paid deep attention to classical and concert music. In fact, there are accounts of Coltrane spending hours at the New York Public library listening to records of the music of composers such as Stravinsky.

And the fact that the Dutilleux piece has those themes of “Where do we come from ? What are we ? Where are we going?” is intriguing, as it is not altogether dissimilar themes that are explored in A Love Supreme. I’m quite convinced that A Love Supreme was probably influenced by the themes of Howard Thurman’s 1963 work, Disciplines of the Spirit, and it is certainly not out of the question to imagine that the Dutilleux symphony might also played a role.

Thanks to Dr. Jones for observations. I know both of us would be happy to hear any feedback from listeners as to whether or not they too are hearing these connections.

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