My first experiences of the soundworlds of Mahler’s late orchestral works revealed to me the vast distances over which late romantic harmonic language can transport the listener. I was instantly taken by the immense power generated by Mahler’s continual re-casting of the opening melodies of the Ninth (last movement) and Tenth (first movement) Symphonies, in subtlely or radically new harmonic and orchestrational contexts. One waits in expectation of the return of the opening and, no matter whether it’s the first or the fiftieth hearing, is stunned by the genius of the new twist applied.
Aufsatz (German for “essay”) is my attempt at capturing – in some very small way – the gist of Mahler’s regenerative methods. The piece is a lopsided sonata form, where an angular development is followed by a vastly expanded recapitulation, which culminates in a perpetual re-spinning of the opening material, cut short by a brief and optimistic coda.
Aufsatz is dedicated to my piano teacher from an early age, Margaret Carryer. Aufsatz was read by the NZSO in November 2003, and recorded for broadcast in 2006. Hamish McKeich conducted on both occasions.
In the photographic essay A Journey by New Zealand Photographer Robin Morrison there is a striking image of the small church of St Gabriel at Pawarenga, Whangape Harbour in Northland, New Zealand. It sits alone among isolated cabbage trees with its squat spire silhouetted against the sky. The picture evokes a feeling of profound solitude and a mood of keep spirituality.
The music tells a story of St Gabriel coming to Pawarenga following the Night Journey and Ascension to Heaven (Isra and Al-Miraj) of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Archangel Gabriel comes to the sleeping Prophet bringing the winged beast Al-Buraq for Him to ride through the night to Jerusalem. There He communes with the messengers of God – Moses, Jesus Christ and others.
Gabriel reappears in splendour, with golden wings stretching from horizon to horizon. He guides The Prophet, mounted on Al-Buraq, up through the seven paradises to the throne of God where He is transfixed by revelation.
Gabriel then descends from the heavens to Pawarenga, the most remote part of the world, to make a Church in his own name. The final stages of the descent are accompanied by chants from this new and different land.
The music has seven sections that trace the stages of this journey of The Prophet to the realms of God escorted by the Archangel Gabriel. It concludes with Gabriel’s descent from paradise to found St Gabriel’s Church at Pawarenga.
This is the second of Northland Panels, a series of four works for string orchestra based on photographs from A Journey. The others in the series are Angel at Ahipara, Anthem on the Kaipara and Christ at Whangape.