De Aestibus Rerum was composed for the centenary of the University of Auckland in 1983, and received its first performance in November of that year. The title means ‘on the ebb and flow of things’ and the work is based on a number of distinctive rhythmic and timbral ideas which grow and recede. One hears fluidic patterns, clear octaves with coloured resonances, shimmerings and tremolos, bird-like calls and repeated notes which move frequently at different speeds. A feature of the work is the free open sounding passages marked ‘cadenzas’ for clarinet, violin, cello and horn. In two of these passages the instruments proceed independently of each other.
This work received first prize in the chamber music category of the International Horn Society Competition in 1984 and the work was subsequently performed at the International Horn Symposium, Detmold, Germany, in September 1986 by the Virginia Tech Ensemble.
De Aestibus Rerum was recorded by the Karlheinz Company in October 1984.
This work reflects my developing interest in the incredible diversity of melodic forms and styles as found outside the traditions of Western art music. The basis of the piece is a series of three transcriptions which I notated from recordings. The first is a Greek fiddle tune Horos Serraborrowed from a recording of Greek folk music; the second is a fragment for solo bamboo flute (saluang) which introduces a kind of sung poetry from West Sumatra; the third Hindi film theme as played by a street band in Pune, India, an ensemble comprising four clarinets, two trumpets and two drums. (The latter two recordings I made my self).
These transcriptions for orchestra attempt to capture something of the style of playing and timbre of the original performances. Around these more or less literal reproductions I have added an orchestral fabric whose purpose is to create coherence and continuity within the work. I am not able to justify bringing together three different musics which are so unrelated culturally speaking – my intention is simply to try to convey something of the joy and excitement I experienced when I encountered each one for the first time.
The first performance was given on the 27th November 1983 by the Amabile String Quartet (Alan Foster, Glenda Craven, Lyndsay Mountfort, Annemarie Meijers), the players all being members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The ‘String Quartet No.1’ was also performed at the National Art Gallery, Wellington in 1983, and at the University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ in 1986. ‘String Quartet No.1’ is a concise work written in an atonal and at times modernist language somewhat inspired by the music of Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg. The second movement is a kind of “Second Viennese waltz” – a reference to the Second Viennese School at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Written at Waikanae beach, ‘Variation’ was inspired by the natural environment. Rapidly evolving, elaborate patterns are a feature of the work. Chromatic textures reflect wind and surf, swirling, then pause for breath before hurtling off again, intentionally avoiding metered structures. Harris has always viewed the work as a ‘New Zealand piece’, although commentators from the period labelled it as belonging to the European art music tradition. The artist’s response: “I was thinking about New Zealand things. Sea, wind”. David Guerin gave the first performance of ‘Variation’ in 1982, but the technical challenges of the work have meant that it has seen few performances since.