As he lays the completed piece on the table the chimes ring softly. Suddenly a spirit appears at his side, and summons him to dance. Tentatively at first he takes her hand, gaining confidence as she leads him. As they dance the years fall from him and he feels the strength of youth in his body. Delighted, he dances all the more exuberantly. The feverish dance is suddenly interrupted however and he collapses to the floor, an old man once more.
A One-Act Ballet Scored for String Quartet & Piano
A Man – an elderly watchmaker
A Woman – the spirit of the watch/Death
The curtain rises on a small workshop. The owner is old and frail, and works alone amid his watches. He laments the passing of time, which for all his skill he has no power to alter. He senses that his life must soon come to an end, but he will not go willingly into the darkness. As he completes his final watch he swears defiantly that he shall not breathe his last until the watch ceases to function.
He discovers there is something wrong with the watch, which has accidentally been knocked from the table onto the floor. Fetching his tools he hastily sets to work. Eventually he sets the watch down and is reassured to hear the chimes ring, though not as clearly as before. Again the spirit appears at his side and invites him to dance, but her movements are neither quite so supple nor so fluid as when she first appeared. This time her dance is more poised. Nonetheless she dances his years away once again and he relishes his recovered youth, until the watch gears fail a second time and his age returns to him as before.
This time he is frantic. To lose one’s youth is bad enough, but to lose it three times over in such quick succession is agony. He sets about with his tools and labours over the broken piece, finally setting it down and listening anxiously for the chime. He breathes: it is perfect! He turns, looking for the spirit at his elbow. But, instead of the spirit of the watch he beholds the face of Death, and its outstretched hand. He trembles but cannot refuse the invitation, and together they dance a final dance.
He repairs the watch again, though with more difficulty. This time when the chimes ring they are audibly damaged. The spirit appears, but their third dance is subdued, as though his years had been passed on to her. There is grace and elegance in it and the watchmaker is gentle and attentive with his partner. Despite his best efforts, however, the watch expires and the mecanism stops.
Ernest Ansermet was, in his own time, a great champion of contemporary music. Although he rejected utterly the compositional practices of the second Viennese school and most particularly the serialism of Schoenberg, he promoted and often premiered works by Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, and Swiss composers Frank Martin and Arthur Honegger.
The Ansermet Ensemble considers it part of our mission to perform new music and encourage listeners to discover the work of young artists. Most recently we commissioned a one-act ballet from Scottish composer Peter Longworth that was premiered in Switzerland in May 2016. You can read the story and listen to the music below!
We will be commissioning new pieces for our 2018 Swiss Concert Series before the end of the year. Any composers interested in discussing their work are welcome to contact us at