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The title Cirrus is taken from the first stanza of James K. Baxter’s poem, High Country Weather (1948).
Alone we are born
And die alone
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow mountain shine
Upon the upland road
Ride easy stranger
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger
What appealed was the depiction of individual endeavour, the expansive backdrop of New Zealand rural imagery and the poem’s final plea. Despite the foreboding beginning, metaphorically the ‘red-gold cirrus’ foretell of a change for the better. Cirrus are beautiful high transparent clouds typically streaming in the direction of the wind, usually signalling the arrival of fair weather. As a child growing up in rural New Zealand I used to often lie on the ground and gaze skyward, observing these clouds.
The opening of the piece employs high-pitched bell-like chords. While the upper and lower strings hold a sustained note, a bass clarinet introduces the first significant melodic theme. After the first full-orchestral climax the texture of the climax quickly dissipates to reveal a high-pitched modal melody. The brass abruptly interrupts this moment of quiet with an augmentation of the previous theme. After this interruption subsides the character of the music gradually becomes more uplifting and confident. Then solo instruments perform themes over a lively syncopated chromatic pizzicato bass line and variations of the original theme repeat, driving the music forward to reach the final climax. The piece ends with a final recapitulation of the high modal melody and arpeggiated echoes of the opening bell-like chords in the tuned percussion.
29 Oct 2004: Performed by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
14 Sep 2007: Performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hamish McKeich at the NZSO-SOUNZ Readings in Wellington Town Hall