The title is taken from a recent book by Charles Nicholl, a collection of essays each based on some remnant of former times that has not yet told its full story, some vestige that can offer – in words from Nicholl’s preface – ‘the sudden presence, the glimpse behind the curtain, the episode measured in minutes and preserved across the centuries’.
One example is a song by the Jacobean lutenist-songwriter Robert Johnson, ‘Woods, rocks and mountains’, which may be all that remains of Shakespeare’s Don Quixote play Cardenio. This lies behind the whole piece, but drifting in and out of it are other fragments of works either lost (Schoenberg’s 1912 orchestration of Beethoven’s Adelaide) or left incomplete (music that might belong to Sibelius’s Eighth Symphony, an unused sketch for Mahler’s Tenth). Some of these broken threads may be recognisable, others not, but their original identities are less important than their presence here, arising and dissolving within a new context that is made for them – a context, rather, they help make.
Playing for around 20 minutes without a break, the piece is in three broad sections, slow-fast-slow, the central part quite short.