A music-theatre work especially written for Wellington pianist Dan Poynton. Although referring indirectly to religious symbolism, the composition focuses on the physical and mental stress that pianists submit themselves to.
It is impossible not to feel inspired when playing some of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues, Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Debussy’s two books of preludes, or Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues. As a composer I wanted to make a small mark of respect to these greats with some dedications. I have also taken a cue from Bach and Shostakovich and included contrapuntal forms within these preludes. While not wanting to restrict myself to the form of a fugue, there are several preludes which are close in spirit to fugues: Nos.17 and 19 for instance, are what I would call my ‘prelugues’. There is also a passacaglia (No.16) which owes a debt to Shostakovich. I have conceived these pieces as a unified whole. Within them I have attempted to cover a whole variety of characters and moods, from the improvisational and experimental to the lyrical and gentle, from the wild and gestural to the calm and peaceful, from the quirky and ‘black’ to the light and sunny, from the depressive to the resolved. The extensive technical planning and preparation behind these pieces has been fun for me as the composer, but in the end it is the sound and musical expression that matters. I would like to think this voyage of discovery has led to something new and interesting to listen to.
The title itself is a play on the words “fatality” and “tonality”, the two words and concepts colliding to form “[f]at[on]ality”. Similarly, the music presents two contrasting musical languages that intersect and compete violently for dominance. The first of these is a tonal language, represented by various types of (major/minor etc.) chords derived from four constituent triads of a twelve-tone row. The first phrase presents this language in conflict with itself, collapsing two triads into a hexachord at the punctuation points of the phrase. These chords then begin to extricate and extrapolate themselves, – beginning in the right hand at the start of the second phrase – under which the twelve-tone row (presented in the accelerating and decelerating lines of the first phrase) is fragmented and rhythmically manipulated. This twelve-tone row represents the second musical language, that is, a quasi-serial atonal language that is subjected to transformation by inversion, retrograde, multiplication etc. While on one level the music is concerned with the intersection and interdependence of these languages, it is also concerned with the dramatic consequences of that collision. The dynamic and rhythmic frameworks are somewhat extreme, providing a constantly surging, climactic structure that, in the end, resolves ambivalently. The inspiration for the piece came from a poetic doodle, reprinted below:
wanting to dis / dys
place / figure / function
this fatal tonality
this [f]at[on]al entity
cacophonic / catatonic
coughed up and codified
maybe some kind of
superficial facticity / deep fiction
palimpsestic / incestuous
After Resonance Blues explores the Korean idea of aftertone via interval-colour resonances and string after tones (partial un-dampening, prepared bass strings) as well as a Japanese intensification structure. Both of these relate to the idea of timbre grittiness and chordal intensification structure of the twelve-bar structure/grittiness in the blues. A spacious fourth resonance, very slow, at the very opening eventually opens out into a frenetic paced fifths sequence using blues riff patterns but intermingled with an interval-colour richness at the end-time climax. An after resonance string stimulation returns at the end to mirror the beginning prepared notes. The work contains transformed elements of Korean Ritual music; the mood is tinged with lyric sadness (“blue”) in that it reflects an inner emotion over the death of a Korean friend’s father prior to embarking on the work.