E flat sop crnt, 4 solo B flat crnts, repiano crnt in B flat, 2nd & 3rd B flat crnts, B flat flugel hn, solo E flat hn, 1st & 2nd E flat hns, 1st & 2nd B flat baritones, Euphonium in B flat (2), 1st & 2nd B flat trbn, bass trbn, E flat Bass (2), B flat Bass (2), 3 perc, timp, bass drm, side drm, tenor drm, tamtam, clash cymb, susp cymb.
Down in the Brunner Mine was commissioned by The Onslow Brass Band in Wellington and first performed and broadcast in 1996. It is a short set of variations based on a New Zealand folk song called ‘Down in the Brunner Mine’. The folk song describes the coal mine on the West Coast, near Greymouth, and tells of the disaster that occured there in the 1890s when about 60 men were killed in a mine collapse. Here is the first stanza: We worked in the heat and the thick black dust, Sticks to your skin like a burnt pie crust, We rue each day the miner must Go down in the Brunner Mine. The folksong tune is announced by the cornets at the beginning, playing in their low register, accompanied by heavy chords in the low brass. Variation 1 features a horn solo, and the cornets return for Variation 2, playing in fourths. Variations 3 and 4 are strident in character and feature short flourishes. The snare drum enters at the start of Variation 5 and the cornets play a punchy idea using repeated notes. This idea returns in contrapuntal form in Variation 7, while the 6th variation inbetween features little fragments of the theme on various instruments. Variation 8 is powerful and buffeting, and uses the theme in canon. Variations 9-11 make use of the theme’s arpeggio outline and the music builds to a climax. Following this, the music gradually winds down in Variation 12, with the theme appearing in inversion against a repeated bass pattern. After a reflective silence, the short chorale-like coda rounds off the work, and is marked “in memoriam”.
This work began as an exercise in the use of L-Systems as a compositional tool, inspired by Hanspeter Kyburz’s Cells and Michael Norris’ research into methods of using these patterns. L- Systems are algorithms designed by the biologist Aristid Lindenmayer to imitate natural processes of growth and decay and can be musically interpreted in various ways. Three different L-Systems were used for this work; the example on the following page is that of the first movement. Here, and similarly in the third movement, each letter of the pattern was substituted with a different musical gesture. Using gesture rather than specific motifs allowed more compositional freedom to develop ideas while working within the set pattern. In order to create a more lyrical second movement, I experimented with substituting pitch class sets to the pattern, rather than gestures. As a result, the musical growth that is evident in the other movements is not so clear. No mathematical system can be adhered to precisely without a loss of musicality, hence the L-systems I used quickly became macrostructural. These patterns also reach a point where there is too much self-similarity and they must be abandoned in favour of musical intuition. The title refers to the Fibonacci series. Many L-systems (although not the following example!) bear a relationship to this in the length of each new generation.
The Chorale melody was written by Stravinsky in 1952, as a theme for organ improvisation by Marcel Dupre. I am grateful to Robert Craft and the Stravinsky Estate for permission to use it here. Stravinsky’s melody is played by the first trumpet in each of the three chorale settings. All three are canonic in treatment, with the texture increasing from two parts in Chorale 1 to four parts (plus a tuba bass-line) in Chorale 3. The two Interludes take off from the finale notes of the chorale. In contrast both are quick, with a somewhat Stravinskian rhythmic exhuberance; Interlude 1 is scored for a trio (excluding the two trumpets), Interlude 2 for the full quintet.
This brass octet with its somewhat dense texture of waiata-like fragments, is inspired by the spatial as well as the dynamic and energetic qualities of the mountain. The Maori title may translate as ‘The Mountain Called Wharepapa’, which is the original name for Mount Arthur in the Nelson district, a significant mountain in my childhood landscape. This piece is dedicated to the memory of my father, Tas McKee.