A “deconstruction/recomposition” of a fifteenth century carol for 3 soloists and choir on the martyrdom of St Stephen. This dramatic work has become a standard text for study in schools through New Zealand. It has been recorded by the New Zealand National Youth Choir.
When I arrived at the Royal College of Music in London, in September 1937, and was accepted as a student by Vaughan Williams, he put me through routine disciplines of writing fugues and part-songs, and then one day said: “Isn’t it time you composed something?”
I accepted the challenge and produced by Drysdale Overture, with its nostalgic memories in a musical language which rather disconcerted him. Still more did it upset Sir George Dyson, who brilliantly realised my rough orchestral score on the piano and then said: “Don’t bring me another manuscript like that.” He did, however, give it a reading rehearsal with the RCM first orchestra, and I took steps to improve my musical handwriting.
In those far-off heady days, Hans Keller’s “functional analysis” had hardly impacted on the RCM – we students ignorantly and derisively called it “sweet FA”. And so I may hardly provide an “analytical synopsis”.
With my meagre knowledge of classical forms, I thought that proper overtures should have a solemn introduction, with motifs recalled later in various structural guises, and that they should have a contrasting “second object” – hence my nostalgic oboe tune, with fitting Scottish inflections. Curiously, what might have been a routine “development” turned into a sunlit rondo, nostalgic of childhood happiness.
I’m left with that lovely Mark Twain image of Jim and Huckleberry drifting on their barge down that great river, looking up at the stars and wondering “whether they was made, or only just happened”.
Literally, ‘Horizon in the Ear’. A title intended to gently direct attention towards the possibility of a soundscape in which the organism, listening and/or embodied in the sounding materials of the work, is positioned in labile relationship to a horizon. ‘There would appear to be a landscape whenever the mind is transported from one sensible matter to another, but retains the sensorial organisation of the first, or at least a memory of it. The earth seen from the moon for a terrestrial; the city for a farmer. ESTRANGEMENT would appear to be a necessary precondition for landscape’. (Jean Francois Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby. Polity Press: Cambridge, 1991, p.183). Horizont im Ohr was composed in the Electroacoustic Music Studios of the University of Birmingham, and is dedicated to BEAST.
I – On the magical island of Bali, flowing gamelan melodies intertwine with the sound of the “suling” (Balinese bamboo flute) to form rich colourful tapestries. The marimba and flute start out as one, their sounds indistinguishable. Bit by bit the flute asserts its independence, straying further and further from the marimba melody. An argument ensues – but all is resolved at the climax.
II – The haunting sounds of the Japanese “shakuhachi” flute float out over the warm echoes of the rolling landscape.
III – Complex rhythms and South Indian scales set the two instruments off in a race to see who can outplay the other. The marimba is set in a three bar cycle of 5/4 + 5/8 + 5/6 but the flute plays a different cross rhythm each time, returning to the marimba’s pattern at the end of every cycle.
“Rakiura is the Maori name for Stewart Island – the Land of the Glowing Sky. The island lies to the far south of New Zealand. It is separated from the mainland of the South Island by Foveaux Strait. It is rugged, remote, bushclad, and very beautiful.” (from the ’Author’s note’ by Eileen Philipp in the published play script Rakiura).
“Rakiura” is the name of a play by Eileen Philipp. It retells, in the style of a Japanese Noh play, the true story of a Japanese woman found living in a cave on Stewart Island in the late 1970’s. The woman had no coherent reason for being there, simply that she had had an obsessive need to travel far from Japan. Eventually convicted as an overstayer, she was escorted back to Japan by relatives. The play incorporates many of the stylized features of Noh drama including a chorus which comments on the action. My setting of parts of the text in no way tries to re-tell the narrative. Instead, I selected parts of the text which speak mainly of the landscape. In doing so, I have taken several liberties: the selected texts are presented here as though a single entity, whereas they come from various places in the play. Also, I have allocated the texts to choir or the alto solo according to structural or musical needs, rather than trying to retain the solo/chorus divisions of the original.
The music oscillates between E minor and G minor harmonic centres. It is often quite static although there are two major climax points. Structurally the work is something of an arch, with the opening musical ideas returning at the end.
Rakiura was commissioned by the Auckland Dorian Choir (conductor, Karen Grylls) with funding provided by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council whose assistance is gratefully acknowledged.