Whales have long been one of my favourite mammals, and I have always felt greatly aggrieved when I hear of the slaughter of these huge and gentle creatures. One of the most heart-warming sights I know of is seeing a community of people trying to save beached whales, a sight that is not uncommon around our coastline. For most New Zealanders, the idea of hunting whales is now abhorrent and worthy of protest at an international level. This piece, entitled ‘Whalesong’, is my small contribution to that on-going protest. The piece takes its inspiration from a marvelous and famous recording of a humpback whale, made by Frank Watlington of Columbia University Geophysical Field Station, and first released by Roger Payne in 1970. Some phrases from this song have been incorporated into the music, such as the opening rise of a third. The many sliding phrases in the piece owe a debt to the whale’s singing, as do some low rumbling effects on the double bass. The echoing sound world of the underwater is also evoked in the music. Ideas from the whale’s song are subjected to compositional processes, in order to create a coherent piece of human music, something the composer has already grappled with in his work for flute, entitled ‘Tui’ (2004). Whalesong also has a programmatic component to it. Its peaceful song is cruelly interrupted by a harpoon, and the whale is slowly hauled in (signified by the mechanical rhythms in the final section of the piece). I would like to express my gratitude to Dale Gold for his assistance and advice in writing this piece.
Commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and composed for soloist, Dale Gold. Written for inclusion in the orchestra's 2007 subscription series.