Antonyms of Trust is a poem about water; about how our water is being stolen and degraded, about the many New Zealand rivers with signs saying “do not swim – may cause illness” or the dry riverbeds surrounded by farmland with constantly pumping pivot irrigators. “Once upon a better time, the poor man’s wine flowed beneath our feet and bubbled up between the streets…”
Ceremonial Introduction and Dialogue began through a suggestion from my son, Michael, to write a piece for a nonet – clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, percussion (including timpani), violin, viola, cello and double bass – for his colleague musician friends. Periodically, musicians from the Brisbane Orchestra performed a chamber music concert for members and friends – including members’ compositions – calling it “Off the Factory Floor.” The nonet received a couple of rehearsals and was performed, about 1998.
Using, for a start, the theme from Michael’s etude for unaccompanied horn, I “dreamed-up” the idea of setting the ritual opening of a masonic meeting. The order, to which my wife and I belong, is an international one for men and women begun in Paris in 1893. From 1902 it spread it all over the world. The Co-Masonic Lodge in Auckland was founded by C.W. Leadbeater in 1916 and in Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch later.
The theme from my son’s etude comprised seven pitches each of which later received seven durations. From these I was able to set the ceremonial beginning of a Masonic meeting, followed by the text of the ensuing dialogue. Later, I re-scored the original none for orchestra and revised it in 2012. The music “takes over” in the climax section for full orchestra, leaving behind – for a short while – the obvious dialogue.
“I enjoyed performing and recording Eulogy very much. Such a warmth of texture and harmonies which created a sympathetic palette for Olivia Macassey’s word painting” – Kenneth Young
My decision to set this text for orchestra initially arose, not only from reading the poem and appreciating it for what it is, but also from the recent passing of a dear musician colleague with whom I had collaborated on many early jazz projects.
However, at time of writing, I have become most un-nerved by the senseless loss of young life that has been occurring with alarming regularity at a couple of schools I have recently taught at. It was with these tremendously sad, sudden passings in mind that I completed my work on the piano short score of Eulogy, before commencing work on its orchestration.
For the last 28 months of his life, the composer Robert Schumann was confined to an insane asylum in Endenich, now a neighbourhood of Bonn. In Musicophilia – Tales of Music and the Brain, author Oliver Sacks includes this gripping anecdote of Schumann’s last days: “Auditory hallucinations now overwhelmed him, degenerating first into ‘angelic,’ then into ‘demonic’ music, and finally into a single, ‘terrible’ note, an A, which played ceaselessly day and night, with unbearable intensity.”
The line “so hilf Du mir, Herr Jesu Christ, in meinem letzten Leiden” (so help me, Lord Jesus Christ, in my last suffering) comes from a chorale harmonisation that Schumann composed at Endenich – some of the last music he ever wrote. This piece incorporates the chorale in both a quartet of horns and a quartet of cellos. There are also references to Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Joseph Joachim, relating to Robert Schumann’s extensive use of musical ciphers and coded messages.
Aotearoa is a long narrow land surrounded by sea and buffeted by the wind. We who live here learn to know the direction of the prevailing winds and to track the changes in the sky and on the water. As a child visiting grandparents in Wellington I was mesmerised by the evanescent sweep of wind and wave patterns on the harbour surface as gusts blew silver and black across the water. I listened to the adults talk; they spoke of ‘southerly changes’, of ‘squalls’, and of the wind ‘going around to the south’. A new language that conjured images of a dynamic interchange with the wind. The line ‘learning to nudge the wind’ is taken from a Stella McQueen poem, and captures for me that relationship. ‘Learning to nudge the wind’ was written for St. Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra and had its first performance in May 2010.
This composition was written in 2011 for the Southern Sinfonia. It is a modern interpretation of the sense of medieval and renaissance dance, distorted through time. It does not attempt to replicate actual dances, but instead draws on images conjured in the composer’s mind of the energy and vitality of country and court dances.
It begins with an orchestrated version of the composers’ setting of a 16th century gossip song text, Je ne l’ose dire. This is then developed in a rhythmically charged section, gradually building to a climax that ends with a solo bassoon heralding the next section, a more mysterious, stylised dance jumping between contrasting sections, featuring a flute and oboe solo juxtaposed against more aggressive string writing. This resolves into a contemplative lyrical section. The final dance has a strong sense of forward momentum, with a strong rhythmic pattern in the lower strings. This pattern continues and is juxtaposed against the opening theme concluding with a final climax.
A colourful…commissioned work in which every section certainly “got their money’s worth”. Many intricate themes and obligato passages in unusual combinations and key shifts made for a very successful and enjoyable contemporary work.
Elizabeth Bouman, Otago Daily Times
Walter Bolton was the last man executed for murder in New Zealand, hanged at Mt Eden Prison on 18 February 1957. He was convicted of poisoning his wife Beatrice with arsenic on their Whanganui farm.
The story of his trial, questionable guilt and subsequent execution continues to raise many questions. Is it right to take a person’s life in exchange for another? What if society’s judgement was wrong? Would our society have made the same judgement today?
But even more compelling than these moral questions is why a man like Walter Bolton would have been driven to murder in the first place. The prosecution contended that he had deliberately put sheep dip in her food; however arsenic was also found in the farm’s water supply – probably because it had leeched in from the normal daily use of that same sheep dip. The clincher for the jury’s guilty verdict was Walter’s admission that he had been having an affair with his sister-in-law, Florence – salacious but ultimately only circumstantial evidence. The decision to execute him was rushed: the trial took place shortly before Christmas 1956 and the judge and jury would have felt pressed to make it home to their families. Up until his death, Walter continued to maintain his innocence. Florence, a spinster, committed suicide soon after his execution and was rumoured to have left a note admitting to the killing.
This combination of our script and music is a fictionalised interpretation of these historical circumstances. We have put Walter Bolton in his Mt Eden Prison cell in the early dawn hours before his execution. His mind wanders to his deceased wife Beatrice, his lover Florence, and the grotesque pantomime of the judicial system as he saw it. In The Lover’s Knot, he awaits the hangman’s noose.