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.
An “aubade” is a morning song; counterpart of a nocturne, it is literally a “song of the dawn.” The brightness of this Aubade is in simplicity, calmness, and tonal warmth. Written as an afterthought to the Rococo Sonatina, it shares some of the same influence of light jazz and impressionism, yet melded more to a modern chamber music aesthetic than an ancient one.
The piano opens with a simple three-note theme over a calm progression of seventh chords. Echoed by the flute, the theme develops into a more flowing and graceful line, ultimately resolving on a wistful note. A brisk, bird-like section follows, elevating the mood as the flute flutters and the piano scurries. A pensive cadenza leads the music back to the serene calm of the introduction, which leads to a final jazz progression that concludes the music in a different key.
‘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.