This short elegy was written for my friend and fellow composer Gerard Crotty who died of cancer in 1988 at the age of 30. I dedicate it to his memory. The work has been recorded by Alexander Ivashkin on two CDs: Chaos of delight: music by Eve de Castro-Robinson, Atoll CD9806, and Under the Southern Cross: works for cello, Ode Manu 1543/4
“Composition for Solo Viola” explores the gradual growth of material from a single note to long chains of gestures. The soft opening sound, which returns throughout the piece, delineates each of the sections, allowing for clear perception of the process of expansion. Each new section of the piece is generated by overlaying the previous two sections, in such a way so as to expand the material both in time and spatially. “Composition for Solo Viola” was written for and is dedicated to Justine Goode.
This work has been chastised as a mere Bartók pastiche. While this remains true, I do not think it should be so easily dismissed. Keep in mind that it was written by a 21-year-old, and as such, I believe, shows a fair degree of maturity. It borrows and adapts Hungarian melodies (I have subsequently forgotten which) taken from one of Bartók’s myriad collections.
In this work, inspired by Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast – ‘home’ during the composer’s six-week residency at Victoria University in 1989 – the relationship between music and environment is particularly strong. The cello’s low repeated D, which opens the piece, is the fundamental pitch heard in the sea and the restless semi-quavers evoke the continuous movement of waves crashing on the Paekakariki shore. Whitehead’s fascination with medieval philosophy and music, incorporating concepts of natural cycles, is reflected both in the title and in the compositional process, where magic squares were used to generate the background structure.
(Programme note by Emma Carle and Jack Body).
“This is a rich evocative piece that is never merely picturesque, as the title might suggest. It has a lyrical complexity reminiscent of Tippett… (it) achieves moments of great beauty.” (Tim Bridgewater, The Dominion).
“The highlight for me was the premiere of Gillian Whitehead’s Moon Tides, and Shoreline. … Perhaps there are marine associations to be heard in the score, but, more importantly, one appreciates the work’s cool and eminently logical form. The various musical motifs are inventive in themselves and intriguingly handled.” (William Dart, Music in New Zealand)