This pen & ink drawing was directly inspired by a great solo guitar piece, the Nocturnal, by one of my favorite composers, Benjamin Britten. (Who is one of Britain’s greatest composers) When I was drawing this, I was also working hard at being able to play this piece, a big musical and technical challenge.
The Nocturnal is a set of musical variations that were inspired by a theme, and rather than elaborating on the theme and ornamenting it, they are musically searching for it, finding a fragment here, a fragment there, and they don’t find it until the very end of the piece. When the theme finally arrives, it’s hauntingly beautiful, a peaceful but heart-rending song called Come, heavy sleep, written by 400 years ago another British composer, the lute player John Dowland.
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Here are the lyrics:
Come, heavy sleep
Come, heavy Sleep, the image of true Death;
And close up these my weary weeping eyes:
Whose spring of tears doth stop my vital breath,
And tears my heart with Sorrow’s sigh-swoll’n cries:
Come and possess my tired thought-worn soul,
That living dies, till thou on me be stole.
Come, shadow of my end, and shape of rest,
Allied to Death, child to his black-fac’d Night:
Come, thou, and charm these rebels in my breast,
Whose waking fancies do my mind affright.
O come, sweet Sleep; come or I die for ever:
Come ere my last sleep comes, or come thou never.
Yup, the lyrics are pretty dark. And the Nocturnal reflects that in its surreal and haunting series of vignettes, a series of beautiful but disturbing dreams leading to final rest. In the drawing, you can see the sleeper on his/her bed, being kept awake by all manner of disturbing dream creatures, while the lute, reminiscent of Dowland’s music, hangs on his wall, and the moon outside lights a peaceful garden.