13 was inspired by the Renaissance art I saw while studying and travelling in Italy in 2009 – 10. I was taken with the bold depictions of martyrs with the attributes of their lives and deaths.
13 is a set of 13 variations on a theme first presented by the organ. Each variation is based on one of the thirteen present at the Last Supper. The details of their lives are often sketchy, and sometimes sit somewhere between fact and legend. The order is as follows:
Theme Var. I
St Simon Zealotes – Revolutionary; went to Armenia and Persia; sawn in half. Var. II
St Thomas - Doubted Christ’s wounds; went to India; pierced with lance. Var. III
St Philip – Sober-minded; went to Greece and Phrygia; crucified upside-down. Var. IV
St Bartholomew - Honest; went to Armenia; flayed alive. Var. V
St Jude Thaddeus – Farmer; went to Syria and Armenia; clubbed to death. Var. VI
Judas Escariot – The betrayer; eternally punished; hung himself. Var. VII
St James the Great – Fiery temper; ‘Son of Thunder’; Judaea; beheaded. Var. VIII
St James the Less – Brother of Christ; Jerusalem and went to Egypt; thrown off temple. Var. IX
St Matthew – Tax collector; accompanied by an angel; Ethiopia and Persia; martyr. Var. X
St Andrew - The first-called; went to Ukraine and Black Sea; crucified on saltire. Var. XI
St John – Author of Revelations; ‘Son of Thunder’; went to Asia Minor; died of old-age. Var. XII
St Peter – Holder of the keys to the Gates of Heaven; went to Rome; crucified upside-down. Var. XIII
alla marcia – adv. As a musical direction: in the style of a march. Also as adj., n. (Source: Oxford English Dictionary.)
Marcia Brady – A character from the 1969-1974 American television series The Brady Bunch. (Source: Wikipedia.)
General instructions/suggestions include:
- Gather a dozen or so wind and brass players. Have them memorise this music.
- The players should walk one by one from off-stage to on-stage.
- If possible, have them do a complete circuit across the stage, off the other side, through the backstage area, then back onto the stage through the original entry point.
- I encourage the use of surprising points of entry, e.g. balconies, strange doors, trapdoors, zip lines, time machines.
- Optional: incorporate the theme tune to The Brady Bunch in Bb major.
burlesques mécaniques is a rather extroverted collection of grotesque miniatures whose characters are not people or animals but dances. These dances have been mechanised, electrified, and often obscured by their own rhythmic impulse. Old forms and formulaic tropes are given new identities, freed from the confines of metric stability and the expectation that they be “danceable”. The essentially mechanical, artificial aspect of music (and of art in general?) is embodied in the piano, here a brittle, seedy protagonist whose string limbs hover and flail about it. Conflicting rhythms dominate the surface, oscillating between insistent repetition and mad, angular flourishes. The generally jerky, muscular rhythmic material is periodically frozen throughout the work, most strikingly in the ninth movement (chain). Here a string of rich, impressionistic chords briefly reveals an alternative, interior world which is then rudely dismissed in an almost haphazard finale.
This work was written as part of a series of composer workshops organised by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, for works for organ and orchestra. The Auckland Town Hall organ had been restored and refurbished, returning it to its original splendour as a magnificent concert organ. Six composers were invited to write works for organ and symphony orchestra during 2012, for performance in 2013.
For this work I proposed a work that would contrast percussive sounds with the sound of the organ.
The title appealed to me through its various meanings and associations. Firstly as “a mythological, fire-breathing monster, commonly represented with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail”. Surely if anything could be said to be a musical embodiment of a “fire-breathing monster” it would be the pipe organ! A second definition suggests a ‘chimera’ might be seen as a “grotesque monster having disparate parts”, and also as a “vain or idle fancy”. These last two definitions perhaps relating to the disparate nature of sounds available on the instrument, and the somewhat free-form of the work.
Musically the work contrasts a syncopated one-bar rhythmic idea with more flowing melodic material presented by both the orchestra and the organ. In the final bars the two powerful forces battle for supremacy with the organ having the last word!
I was delighted to be paired with organist John Wells for this project, a musician and fellow composer who I admire greatly (and whose daughters I had taught!). His advice and support were very much appreciated.