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
The first two of these three pieces were composed in the 1980s to honour the first and second birthdays of Julie, the daughter of the composer’s friend David Ruddock, the concert pianist. The Seaside Donkey was a birthday celebration piece composed earlier for the composer’s own daughter, and was added to compete the Birthday Suite.
A Little Sleep was written for Tom McGrath, in 2009. It is a programmatic piece that evokes a bedtime scene. A child listens to a music box while she prepares for sleep. Her parents sings her a lullaby – the slower section – and she drifts off, but her sleep is disturbed by a nightmare, represented by the furious final section.
Acquerello (watercolour) revolves around two quiet and contrasting ideas – one slow, one fast. The principal idea is a slow and highly ornamented descending line. Sometimes the line is stripped of all ornamentation and moves instead in chords. Three times this is interrupted with a short, fast refrain.