The music of ‘A West Irish Ballad’ follows the course of an anonymous Irish poem, and is influenced by Irish traditional music. Much of the musical imagery comes from the poetry, from the snipe and the ‘lonely bird in the woods’, to the developing ostinato reminiscent of church bells, and to the broader feeling of the landscape as I imagine it, and the deep emotion of Irish laments and love songs. ‘A West Irish Ballad’ was written for the Sydney Chamber Choir.
‘Beginnings’ was commissioned by Auckland Philharmonia. It was inspired by the birth of Ritchie’s son Tristan. It depicts the slowly mounting tension of the labour, through to the birth itself. There is a gradual growth in the music from small, delicate gestures into wild and pulsating ones towards the end. The child is represented by a ‘little Tristan waltz’ which eventually gets caught up in the musical frenzy. The waltz sequence imposes order on the music, which tends to be fragmentary and changeable. There are some echoes of Bartok and Debussy in this early work, and it presents a good challenge for a professional orchestra.
This work uses, as its sound source, an array of human voices, all of which are deceased political and/or historical figures. It is not intended to be entirely comprehensible at a first hearing as I wished to convey, in part, our cultural over-stimulation in comparison to say, 100 years ago. Musically, it is shaped as a canon, and (taking my inspiration from a comment by Dylan Thomas to the effect that what originally attracted him to language was not its meaning but its sound) I have assembled increasingly fragmented parts of speeches into a confusing labyrinth which will hopefully stimulate harsh emotion. How’s that for a run-on sentence!
Between the Lines was realized at the Electronic Music Studios at the University of Toronto, and re-mastered in Studio A of the Experimental Music Studios, University of Illinois, Urbana, United States.
The text for ‘Christ the King’ is taken from two poems by James K. Baxter: ‘Song to the Father’ and ‘Song to the Lord God on a Spring Morning’. The title of the piece comes from the feast day of October 25th in the church calendar, and the plainsong for this day is used in the opening and ending of the work. ‘Christ the King’ was written for the Sydney Chamber Choir.
Composed at the 1984 Cambridge Summer School, Clouds over Pirongia is a short delicate piece which uses a wide variety of metallic percussion instruments. The resonant sonorities were suggested by various cloud formations over nearby Mt. Pirongia.
‘Roll Jordan Roll’ (movement one) is a series of genre variations on the African-American spiritual of the same name. The melody was transcribed from a 78rpm recording of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, and in turn, this appeared on the 1962 Folkways LP entitled An Introduction to Gospel Song. In my version, the listener will hear my own harmonization followed sequentially by pastiches of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Lennie Tristano, Anton Webern, and Thelonious Monk, in turn.
‘Dangdut’ (movement two) is a direct transcription of an Indonesian street musician called Mas Sujud. He and the tune appeared on a 1982 Kiwi-Pacific Records Ltd./Hibiscus Records LP called Music for Sale (Indonesian street music recorded by Jack Body). In the original, the singer accompanies himself on a small drum, and in my version, the piano part was generated solely by the notes in the melody and rhythms played by the drum. The sax part plays the melody.
This piece was recorded in 1991 by Taimur Sullivan (sax) and Allissa Eells (piano) with funding from the American (then Minnesota) Composers Forum.