Commissioned by the Auckland Philharmonia this orchestral work integrates a quotation from a piano piece by Anton Bruckner (“Erinnerung”) with original material and develops them into a new entity. It is a nostalgic dual meditation on the physical landscapes which haunt us and on patterns of cultural and individual memory that make up the background of every human consciousness. Commercially recorded by Trust Records.
Queen of Demons is Farr’s second orchestral piece that is based on the Hebrew myth of the demonic Lilith, the first being Lilth’s Dream of Ecstasy.
After Lilth was cast out of the Garden of Den for being too dominant in character, she reformed herself as a great demon, and began to produce Lilim (baby Lilths) at the rate of 1000 a day – her band of demons.
This work evokes the terrifyingly beautiful sight of Lilth leading her flock of black demons, flying through the air, plummeting from the sky, and creating havoc wherever they land.
What happens to us after we die? This fundamental question has haunted human imagination for thousands of years. Many recorded accounts of ‘near-death’ experiences from all over the world provide evidence that human consciousness remains active in the time immediately following death. These independent accounts describe similar events: the person (or ‘spirit’) floating above their dead body, the appearance of a great light, being told to go back, and so on.
In 1959, Gina Baxter-Leipolot underwent an emergency operation, was in a coma for three days, and was not expected to recover. During this time she had a ‘near-death’ experience in which she was drifting above a Mediterranean coastline. She heard music, such as the “velvet sound of violins, underbroken by a sound like mandolins” and “a humming sound, building up in force like thunder”. Gina remembered the music after she recovered from the coma and twelve years later she wrote the music down in a basic form, with the help of a retired music examiner, John Chew. She called the music ‘Revelations’.
Having been stirred by Gina’s story and other ‘near-death’ accounts, I decided to base my orchestral piece loosely on ‘Revelations’. Gina’s music only appears in the coda of the piece, played on celesta and harp. It is fragmented and interspersed between large orchestral gestures that depict shafts of light.
Revelations begins with human suffering, symbolised by an anguished chromatic motif on the violins. This is joined by ascending brass chords counterpointed against descending wind chords, as the ‘spirit’ floats out of the body. With the entry of the harp the music becomes ethereal, and the flute plays a sinuous, floating melody. A sinister idea is heard on low clarinets, based on the ascending chords. Following development of these ideas it is the piccolo’s turn to play above the harp, as the ‘spirit’ floats even higher over the sea (symbolised by a static chord, C-D-E). The music gathers in intensity and at the stroke of a log drum the strings play a fast and dynamic fugato. This section is turbulent and spiralling, and uses elements from the slow section: the piccolo theme, the low clarinet idea, acsending and descending chords, and thick ‘cluster’ chords. Resolution is only found at the start of the coda, where the strings play the static chord C-D-E, and the brass and winds play joyful versions of earlier motifs. Gina’s music then appears, and the piece is rounded off by a blaze of light. To quote Gina: “Don’t be afraid of death.”