David Griffiths & Jack Body
David Griffiths (b.1950)
Piano Sonata in C (1988)
Performer: Terence Dennis (piano)
Recorded by at the Albany Street Studios, Dunedin by Radio New Zealand
29 March 1988
Jack Body (b.1944)
In the Curve of Song (2003)
Performers: Madeleine Pierard (soprano), Stroma, Hamish McKeich (conductor)
Recorded by Radio New Zealand at St Andrew's on The Terrace, Wellington
2 August 2003
Introductions by Kenneth Young
Sonata in C
In a previous programme I highlighted the non-choral side to someone best known as a choral composer, David Hamilton. I'm about to do so again. Auckland born and educated David Griffiths is a fine and well loved composer of choral music and certainly one of the most performed in this country. Several choirs, both here and overseas, have recorded his works for CD.
He's also a singer and teacher: I first heard his splendid baritone voice at Cambridge Summer Music School in the mid 1970s, and he’s gone on to have a fine career on the opera stage singing many roles; in the concert hall performing cantatas, oratorios, masses and requiems; and in the recital hall too: he's also recorded a lot of Art Song for Radio New Zealand including many significant works by New Zealand composers. As a teacher of singing, he's held posts at the Universities of Otago, Auckland and Waikato, where he’s now Senior Lecturer in Voice.
As a composer, the vast majority of David Griffiths' works have been either for choir or for solo voice and accompaniment, usually piano. However, he's also written three operas, works for solo flute and solo cello, organ, school orchestra and chamber orchestra. His works for solo piano number six, and one of them we’ll hear this evening: the Sonata in C of 1988; although at a mere 11½ minutes it could be classed more as a sonatina.
Not to take away from the composition itself which is a fine example of conciseness of form. Griffiths makes every note count. His craft in using and developing a minimum amount of thematic material is exemplary. The contrapuntal nature of much of Griffiths' choral writing frequently informs his piano textures, with voices weaving together.
Even though the work is called Sonata in C, and it starts and ends in that key, the most immediately noticeable stylistic element for me is a lean towards bitonality - the juxtaposition of two keys in the same texture.
In the Curve of Song
Here I quote John Cleese: "And now for something completely different."
I could say that if you're listening to this programme then you’re probably aware of the extraordinary work that Jack Body has done in the past 40 years, and leave it at that. However I can't just stop there. He’s awakened in us an awareness of the music of so many other cultures and that has enriched our own music scene in so many ways. His accomplishments are so many and varied that it really would take some time to list them. But here are a few.
Back in the 70s and 80s he organised a series of Sonic Circuses: 12-hour simultaneous, multi-venue music marathons of New Zealand compositions. I recall these fondly; they were extraordinary events. He's been actively involved with the Asian Composers League since 1981 and he was Artistic Director of three of their Asia-Pacific Festivals in Wellington in 1984, 1992 and 2007.
As an ethnomusicologist he's published recordings from Indonesia and China. Through his teaching position at Victoria University, now the New Zealand School of Music, he's arranged for leading Asian composers, including Tan Dun, to visit New Zealand, and he established residencies for traditional musicians from all over Asia to collaborate with staff and students.
He has been the manager of the NZSM Gamelan ensemble, editor of Waiteata Music Press, and has curated over 20 CDs of New Zealand music.
His own works have won many prizes and been performed in countries too numerous to list. They cover most genres including solo and chamber music, opera, orchestral, choral, music theatre, music for dance and film as well as electroacoustic music.
Oh, and he also happens to be one of the sweetest, most generous and gentle people you will ever meet.
The first vocal work of Jack's I ever heard was his Carol to St Stephen from 1975. I loved it; still do. It demonstrates something he’s always had; an acute sensitivity to the possibilities of the human voice.
The work we're going to listen to this evening is a bit different in its use of voice. The title is In the Curve of Song and was commissioned and first performed by Stroma in 2003. It's in 4 movements and is scored for voice, tape, viola, flute doubling piccolo and 4 percussionists.
Jack had come across a modern English translation of tenth-century Anglo-Saxon riddles. While his initial thought was to set these in modern English, he subsequently talked to Christine Franzen, a scholar of Old and Middle English who has since retired from Victoria University. Christine could pronounce this early form of English in the original, and recorded a selection for Jack – you’ll hear some of this on the tape part.
The vocalist, Madeleine Pierard, encompasses a wide range of vocal techniques too numerous to mention but which will be obvious when you hear the piece. The viola employs a scordatura tuning, the bottom string is tuned down B flat. In the first movement the percussionists are playing 4 finger bells, 4 wine glasses and 2 pairs of crotales.
In the second movement the vocalist plays an Angklung – an instrument of Indonesian origin made up of two bamboo tubes attached to a bamboo frame. When the player shakes them from side to side they make a tremolo, or a rapidly repeating note.
The third movement is characterised by the use of 2 harmonicas. At the end of the movement they’re played in an extremely high register, but at the beginning they’re played quite low which for my ears at least gives the impression of a Pūkaea, a long Māori trumpet.
The final movement again involves wine glasses, and the ensemble now includes 5 small bowls and one large one which are gently beaten.
The variety and originality of timbres and textures is extraordinarily imaginative. Jack Body’s ability to conjure unique sound worlds from the most diverse of means is well known. In the Curve of Song is yet another fascinating example.