This brief elegy was written a few months after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, in which so many lost their lives. Over the gently rocking figures of the viola and cello are heard the more impassioned lines of the violins; these seem to chase after one another before the piece comes to a quiet close. Composed for the Auckland Philharmonia Ensemble Philharmonia concerts, where it received its first performance in November 2006.
The title indicates a final farewell to a Hero, famous as one of New Zealand’s most important composers. The prelude is a lament, a wordless song that is mesto, thoughtfully sad, rather than gloomy. A motif quoted from Aotearoa Overture identifies the Hero, and us. The lyrical pensive prelude melody is composed with modal phrases evocative of Lilburn’s background. The fugal part energetically celebrates his academic status and international fame with a theme derived from transformations of the heroic E flat motif from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony; this emerges only when my theme unravels its transformations towards the end. Just before the end each violin refers to the New Zealand National Anthem, and there is an impassioned cadence in the relative key of c-minor, but the last fading sound is an ambiguous interval. After Lilburn, what next?
While no Lyric Suite, this is my most ambitious composition to date, combining multiple musical cultures dating over the past 1,000 years. It is dedicated to my wife, Shayna. The first movement owes something to the world of Janacek, and is even based upon a Czech folk tune (which one hears partially disguised at one point).
The second (no jokes about “La Quesadilla,” please), is based upon music I have heard played by South Mexican street bands. A simple melody becomes more fragmented until it distorts into this nightmarish scherzo.
Talencourt starts with direct transcription of a Quebecois folk melody as originally played in the 1920s by “Villeneuve and Bouchard” a violin and accordion duo – later released on the 1985 album You Can Tell the World About This (Morning Star Records). It is then given short variation treatment in the styles of Bartók, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninov, in that order. The rest of the work is a mirror image of itself right back to the very beginning.
The fourth movement only lasts around a minute, and is a setting of the medieval melody (anonymously written) of the same name.
Mache Dich Mein Geist Bereit is a setting of a chorale melody, in quickly contrasting alternating sections of a March and a “Pseudo-Adagio” (which is at the same speed as the march, but the notes are obviously held much longer). Mahler probably would have hated this piece, but I don’t care, I will always love Mahler’s music.
Shir Ha-Shirim is a toccata-like distortion of a medieval Jewish setting of a text from the Song of Songs, III / 1, “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loved; I sought him, but I found him not.” The Song of Songs is a love-song from God to Israel and vice-versa and it is read at Passover. After a short reprise of Hore Cerny the melody returns to the toccata, thereafter quietly dispersing.
In this work, the first movement uses two Basque melodies (one of which is a Basque lullaby whose text contains only Basque nonsense words) for the first group and a “Bulgarianized” version of a Hungarian folk melody for the second in this short sonata form. The second movement is an arrangement of a 14th century melody by Guillaume de Machault, and the last owes something to Scandinavian folk music (the obscure title refers to a favorite Finnish dill-infused salad dressing that I like to make on occasion).
Music for Viola and Piano is dedicated to Rudolf Haken, Rachel Jensen, and my counterpoint teacher, Jack Melby.
Questioning the mountain was written in June 2008, immediately after the devastating earthquake in my home region of Sichuan.
The piece is a meditation on the tragic event and a nostalgic offering to my motherland. Its slow and procession-like unfolding suggests some kind of ritual, at once sombre and graceful.
A fragment from the Sichuan folksong On the High Mountains becomes a recurring motif, like an unanswered question, which at the end transforms into a repeating bass line which gives the foundation to flourishing melisma in the high register on the piano.
So begins ‘La Vuelta al Reino Extranjero’, performed by the greatest son huasteco trio in Mexico, Los Camperos de Valles. Comprising the virtuosic violinist Heliodoro Copado, Marcos Hernandez’ extraordinary falsetto and the jarana guitar playing of Gregorio Solano, this trio sizzles to the words of a legendary trovador, Serapio El Gero Nieto. Rhythmic sleights-of-hand twist an already complex argument of two against three into an intoxicating ‘journey to a foreign kingdom’. The words of each verse were extemporized, the last line of each repeated as the first of the next, in an endless chain of surreal connections. Snap is a musical tourist’s album of this virtuosic performance.
These three pieces for violin and piano were written for a talented amateur violinist. The violinist had a particular interest in Scottish Fiddle music, and having written a number of piano accompaniments for his music, the Scottish style found its way into at least the first two, of these pieces. The first pieces has a number of pentatonic figures and the second a distinctive rhythm which features in some of the slower dances.
The title refers to the 25th Variation of the Goldberg Variations by J. S. Bach. When I heard the New Zealand String Quartet perform the Goldberg Variations during their Bach and Mendelssohn series in 2007, I had a strong desire to pay my respects to the beauty and richness of the music and to write another work for the wonderful New Zealand String Quartet. I set about doing this by taking the music of the 25th Variation and using it as the basis of a single movement for string quartet. The work begins with canonic additions to the original and evolves from there.
Variation 25 was written while I was the Jack Richards/Creative New Zealand Composer in Residence at the New Zealand School of Music in 2008.