“Of all the discoveries made by Mariner 9, one of the most impressive was an enormous volcano, twice as high as Everest and five hundred kilometres across the base. It was located at a spot which the old map-makers, peering at the tiny telescopic image of Mars, had noted as being of unusual brilliance, and had given the astonishingly prescient name ‘Nix Olympica’, the Snows of Olympus.�” (Arthur C. Clarke)
While the title provided the impetus for this work, it is not intended to be strictly programmatic; rather, I have sought to establish a mood (or perhaps a ‘landscape’) which each title suggested to me. Nix Olympica was written at a time when I was becoming very interested in minimalism in musical composition, and much of the material reflects this. Minimalist works are usually built from a small amount of melodic or rhythmic material repeated many times, often with only slow subtle changes. Although the work is quite active rhythmically (especially the middle section) it is harmonically quite static. The first of the three sections (which follow each other without a break) establishes B flat as its tonal centre, and presents fragments of material which occur later in the work. The second section uses G as its rallying point with a secondary focus on B flat (a minor 3rd above G). The music consists of a series of ideas which gradually lengthen, framed by a structure of major subdivisions which come closer and closer together. The third section moves to an E minor tonality (a minor 3rd below G) and consists of a long languid melody played throughout by the clarinet.
This music is derived from an independent work for flute, percussion and organ written at the 1985 Cambridge Music School. Throughout the work there is a preference for middle and upper-range timbres from all the instruments, but with few ‘extended playing techniques’.
Nix Olympica was commissioned by the Music Federation of New Zealand (now Chamber Music New Zealand) for the Auckland Wind Quartet and pianist David Guerin. It was premiered by these performers in 1986.