Anthony Ritchie (b.1960)
The Rose Family (1993)
Performers: Maria Treadaway (sop), Viva Voce, John Rosser (cond)
Recorded by Radio New Zealand at the Auckland Town Hall
21 November 1993
I. All Night by the Rose
II. The Sick Rose
III. You Love the Roses
IV. Song ("Go Lovely Rose")
V. To the Rose
VI. One Perfect Rose
VII. The Rose Family
VIII. Bread and Roses
Introduction by Kenneth Young
The first I was made aware of Anthony Ritchie was in 1975. His father, Professor John Ritchie, was my lecturer in composition and orchestration, and it was during a post-lecture chat one day that we began discussing Shostakovich who was all the rage among my age group. The good professor mentioned that, although he admired the great Russian composer, he nevertheless had to endure his string quartets at the breakfast table as this is what his then 14 year old son was in to. Later that same year, the two of them were seated directly behind me at the Christchurch Town Hall as we listened to only the 2nd performance ever of Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony, given by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Hopkins. It was a stunning and pivotal event in our lives.
Anthony Ritchie is by now one of our most recognisable and loved composers. The sheer range and volume of his compositional output is staggering: five operas, three symphonies plus over 20 other orchestral works, a vast array of chamber music, numerous choral works, eight concertos for various instruments, a large number of song cycles, incidental music for the theatre, and a veritable swag of piano music. However, he combines this with a passion for music education. He conducts the Dunedin Youth Orchestra and the Southern Children's Choir; he's written over a dozen works for amateur or school orchestras and of course he teaches at the University of Otago too - Michael Norris and Tecwyn Evans are among his many excellent former pupils. However, one aspect of his life which you're probably not aware of is that he was the only Otago representative in the 10 strong New Zealand croquet team who competed at the World Championships in 2009.
The work of Anthony's we are going to hear this evening is The Rose Family, eight songs for a capella choir. With texts by poets as varied as William Blake, George Eliot, Edmund Waller, Robert Herrick, Dorothy Parker, Robert Frost and the ubiquitous Anon one might be forgiven for thinking that Ritchie had dug himself a compositional hole aiming to unify their styles. Not so. The settings deal with roses in a variety of ways, reflecting themes from romance to suffering and death, and the mark of Ritchie’s distinctive voice is ever-present. He takes a traditional, often contrapuntal approach to the writing, however harmonically there are many twists and turns which I'm thinking make life interesting for the performers. The singers of Viva Voce, the choir Ritchie wrote it for in 1993, handle it all splendidly.
The fourth song of the set is a setting of Edmund Waller's "Go lovely Rose", a characteristically idealistic and romantic poem about the love of a young woman; whereas in "To the Rose" by Robert Herrick the rose is used to entrap a lover and force her to submit. The music reflects this cruelty.
The Dorothy Parker setting, "One Perfect Rose", is ironic, suggesting that roses are all very well but she would have preferred a new car from her lover.
The final song is an arrangement of James Oppenheim's suffragette song "Bread and Roses", and recalls the sweated labour of women from the past.