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Michael Maxwell Steer's The Fortress of Illusion - 1st movt. Live performance by MMS & Richard Black

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Published on Aug 20, 2013

Concert at Chethams International Piano Festival & Summer School, Manchester on 26 August 2012

The Fortress of Illusion was composed in 2009, but I've known the story on which it's loosely based for around 25 years. I encountered it as 'The Bath Bâdgerd', its original Persian title, in a vivid psychological explanation given by Marie-Louise von Franz in her book Individuation in Fairy Tales. Centuries old—possibly over a millennium, it's a fable of the type itinerant story-tellers used to spell-bind their simple audiences: full of puzzling details, horrifying monsters, suspense, dead-ends, sudden denouements and, in this case, a parrot. But behind all the 'mcguffin', what actually hooks us today are the esoteric resonances in the parable.
The composition won an Honourable Mention in the European Piano Teacher's 2009 Composition Competition, & I was invited to perform it. But I couldnt, not least because I didnt have a partner. To rehearse & perform it took a further year. Richard Black, my fourth partner, first saw the music 10 days before the premiere!

In the story Hatim at-Tai (a Quixotic character based on a proverbially magnanimous poet of 6-7AD) is a young knight at a court in the desert kingdom of Qat'an. He pines for love of the Emir's daughter, Husn Banu, who asks him to bring her the fabulous diamond from the Pool or Bath of Bâdgerd (illusion) which lies thousands of miles away within an impenetrable fortress 'where the gates stretch up to the sky', built by King Gayomard (the Zoroastrian equivalent of Adam), standing in the middle of a desert, from which noone ever reemerges.
The first movement is based on moods relating to Hatim's setting off and the many discouragements, false trails & despair involved in his journey, which culminates in his arriving & entering the Fortress.

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