This piece was originally conceived for a mixed chamber group of 9 players, and received its first performance in 2002. It was arranged in this version for 2 pianos and 4 performers, for the Estrella Quartet, in 2011. The title refers to a scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream.
This piece is essentially a study of two elements. First is the resonance of the piano, triggered by pizzicati played by an assistant on the lowest strings. This resonance can then be altered with use of the sustain pedal; lifting the sustain pedal very gradually for example, creates the effect of a crescendo on a single note, this is something which is not normally possible on a piano. The second element is a melodic line on the keyboard. It acts as a foil by creating resonances of its own though a range of decorative figurations and implied harmonies that may or may not be sympathetic to the resonance set up by the pizzicati.
These miniatures are an exploration of musical geometries: space, time, line, synchronicity and movement. The collection is a juxtaposition of shapes: fluid and concrete, organic and mechanical, robust and fragile. Each movement explores a particular spatial concept:
II. [dislocation] III. [impulse 1]
V. [diagonal 1]
VI. [intersection] VII. [diagonal 2] VIII. [impulse 2]
The movements are paired: I & IV; II & VI; III & VIII; V & VII. Together they represent an attempt to simplify and concentrate my rhythmic language while retaining the intensity of a previous piano piece, [f]at[on]ality. Throughout the set, a number of jagged rhythmic motifs rupture and finally completely replace the initially calm musical surface. These eight miniatures were written for two good friends, Simon Edwards and pianist Flavio Villani.
A “pipe dream” is a hope that is unattainable, the unrealistic dream of the idealist. This piece was written with a feeling of roaming aimlessly, searching but never finding. Although such a piece sounds at times distant, ethereal or unearthly, the inspiration or idea for the piece I (and surely many other people) often get everyday, especially under the pressures of studying at university – an artist will constantly search to find something new and impressive or never before discovered but only to be disappointed. It has been discovered before… it is experienced once, then thrown away… our art is forgettable, dispensable to the people that matter – or so we think.
This piece is composed using the whole tone scale – a sense of wandering and wondering. A simple melodic idea was constructed in a way that could be linked together seamlessly and transposed along the whole tone scale to create a dream-like quality. There are brief moments that deviate from the whole tone scale which symbolise a vision of hope or an idea, however, the questions always remain unresolved and we return to the murky water. Attention is given to pedaling technique with the intention to create a fine line between beauty and ugliness, hope and dispair. The pedal on the piano can create an exquisitely ethereal quality to the sound, yet too much can plunge us into muddy, murky waters.
Ragtime, with its syncopations, has always been a popular form of early jazz. The music of Scott Joplin is particularly well-known especially after his piece “The Entertainer” achieved world-wide prominence as a piece of film music. These three pieces were written and/or arranged for an enterprising group, The Estrella Quartet. Four fine young pianists formed the group as a unique way of completing chamber music studies at Auckland University. In 2010 I had written “Tui” for them, and this was followed in 2011 with “Ghost Dance”. Following these two serious pieces I was keen to write them something lighter, and these three rags are the result.
The first two pieces are arrangements of music written about 25 years earlier. “Those Ragtime-Caravan-Blues” was originally a piece for three violins and horn written for students I knew while attending a Cambridge Music School. This annual summer music school ran for forty years, ceasing in the late 1980s, and drew a diverse range of musicians from those professionally involved with music to those who simply enjoying the experience of making music with others. The summer school included a composition section which I attended several times.
The second piece was originally incidental music for the play “Mister Bones and Mister Jones” (by Eve Hughes). This play was mounted by students of Epsom Girls’ and Auckland Grammar Schools in 1985, and I wrote a number of short instrumental and vocal pieces for the production.
The final piece, “The Estrella Rag” was newly written for this set in 2011. It ends with a wild restatement of the opening music at a faster speed, and a final accelerando brings the work to the noisy and frantic close.
Early in 2010 I wrote Me he korokoro tui for a choral festival. The text of that work made reference to singing and the tui. A native bird of New Zealand. the tui is noted for it’s wide repertoire of song, and the proverb “Me he korokoro tui” means “as sweet throated as the tui”. For that work I sourced some examples of tui song from a pioneering book on New Zealand birds by Johannes Andersen.
In his book Bird-song and New Zealand song birds Johannes Andersen notated around seventy distinctive calls of the tui. He noted: “He sings at all times…by day and by night; at rest and on the wing…”, and also commented that “…the notes of this most versatile bird are different in different parts of the islands; and even in the same locality they vary from season to season, new notes being sounded in addition to old ones repeated…”.
Tui begins by quoting two of Andersen’s notated tui songs, and through the remainder of the work some others are briefly quoted as well. These tui songs were the starting point for a piece which explores varying textures and shifting tonalities, within a strictly rhythmic setting. The music is generally tonal but with an emphasis on harmony rather than melody. The music is quiet throughout and never rises above mezzo-piano, ending in reiterated chords like mist rolling in. The challenge with this piece was to avoid a texture that became too thick or heavy.
“Tui” was written at the suggestion of a former student of mine, Judy Lee. Judy was playing with a group of fellow students at Auckland University, using repertoire for 2 pianos (8 hands) as chamber music study.