Clairmont Triptych was written in fulfilment of a commission by Chamber Music New Zealand for the Auckland Wind Quintet with pianist David Guerin to perform on a New Zealand tour in 1988.
The music derives its inspiration and impetus from the work of the New Zealand painter Phillip Clairmont (1949 – 1984). He was something of an enfant terrible of the New Zealand art world, living his life and his painting with a reckless passion and energy. His work is vibrant and strong, conveying an intense and energetic power. Aspects of these elements are captured in the music, although it is not programmatic, but connects with paintings through analogy and allusion. Amongst the profusion of themes and ideas there are two prominent recurrent subjects in Clairmont’s work – the domestic interior and the self portrait. These form the thematic base of the first two of the three inter-linked movements of the work. The first movement, Interiors, mirrors the fractured vibrancy of the Clairmont interiors by use of a very fast toccata-like movement in sequences of fluctuating tempo. This creates a continuously “flexing” aural effect which reflects the unsettling quality of the images. The second movement, Self Portraits, uses a recurring three note motif C-B-Bb. These are the composer’s initials (C-H-B in German), thus the self portrait becomes ambiguous. The music seeks to realise to an extent the technique and viewpoint of the self portraits. The third movement, Jimi Rocks, refers to the influence of rock music on Clairmont’s painting, particularly during his studies and the early part of his career in Christchurch. The three movement formal structure is a musical equivalent of the triptych format Clairmont often used in his painting.