The ‘Elgin Marbles’, taken from the Parthenon, lie at the centre of a long-standing property dispute between Greece and the British Government. Encountering these sculptures in the British Museum for the first time, I was intrigued to learn that one of the decorative motifs adorning its carved stone form was known as ‘egg and tongue’. The sensuously rounded forms of eggs and tongues alternate and repeat along the borders of the monumental sculptures, an ancient pattern combining symbols of virility and fertility. The motif is widespread: several years later, walking through the ruined architecture of the Syrian city of Apamea, I found tumbled-down stones of Roman structures bearing this same pattern, rain-washed stones in a field of crocuses. In the music of Egg and Tongue, I play with ideas of patterning and fragmentation, cultural property and style. Familiar motifs repeat, adorn, are lost and take new shapes.
This work for String Quartet consists of four short movements, the titles of which are taken from poems by Janet Frame: The Icicles, The Stones, Moss and The Birch Trees. Each one is a kind of natural miniature, exploring stillness and the simple beauty of quiet sounds, and underpinned by a sense of gentle unease. The Icicles is a fragile, intimate movement without development, tiny fragments of tune colouring the sparse soundscape. The Stones sets up an insistent, pulsing rhythm that hints at the sustained violence to come in Moss, a much denser, edgier beast, a breaking point before the calm. In the final movement, the action is brought back to a quiet nostalgia, recalling the delicate, frail harmonies of the opening. The work as a whole owes much to the aesthetics of John Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts and to Janet Frame’s virtuosic portrayal of New Zealand landscape.
This work for string quartet centres around a chord of C sharp, F sharp, G sharp, and C which form the foundation on which other ideas are layered, so forming the “pyramid”. The work is designed to show to best advantage the varying qualities and timbres of stringed instruments.
Refrains, Cadenzas and Interludes for string quartet was composed in 1971 and was one of four works awarded prizes in the original compositions for string quartet competition administered by the APRA Music Committee in New Zealand and the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation in that year.
As the title implies, the work contrasts three different styles of writing for strings. Four ‘refrains’ feature jagged rhythmic outbursts of short motives. Three cadenzas each for cello, viola and violin respectively present soloistic passages accompanied by sustained chordal textures. By contrast, the three Interludes are generally soft and reflective in mood.
Refrains, Cadenzas and Interludes was first performed at the 1972 Cambridge Summer Music School.
The first performance was given on the 27th November 1983 by the Amabile String Quartet (Alan Foster, Glenda Craven, Lyndsay Mountfort, Annemarie Meijers), the players all being members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The ‘String Quartet No.1’ was also performed at the National Art Gallery, Wellington in 1983, and at the University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ in 1986. ‘String Quartet No.1’ is a concise work written in an atonal and at times modernist language somewhat inspired by the music of Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg. The second movement is a kind of “Second Viennese waltz” – a reference to the Second Viennese School at the beginning of the 20th Century.