13 Oct 2014

Kit POWELL: The Death of Maui

From NZ Composer Sessions, 12:00 am on 13 October 2014


Kit Powell: I Mate a Māui i a Hine-nui-te-Pō - The Death of Māui

The great hero Māui decides to conquer death, Hine-nui-te-Pō, the Great Lady of the Night.

The great hero Māui (who fished up Aotearoa, slowed the sun and brought fire to the world) decides to conquer death, Hine-nui-te-Pō, the Great Lady of the Night. Māui 's father warns him not to try to kill Hine-nui-te-Pō for he would surely die, since he, the father, had omitted saying an important prayer when Māui was born. Māui ignores his father and asks the birds if they will accompany him. The fantail, piwakawaka, dances a haka and Māui joins in. He changes himself into a sparrowhawk and they all fly off. They arrive at Rarohenga, the home of Hine-nui-te-Pō. She is asleep. Māui warns the birds to be very quiet and not to laugh. He changes himself into a caterpillar to enter the goddess. But the fantail can contain his laughter no longer and then all the birds laugh too. Hine-nui-te-Pō awakes and crushes Māui between her legs. All the people are very sad and sing a Waiata Tangi. Māui (as a spirit) decides to change the mood of this lamentation: they should celebrate his life, not mourn his death. He is dead but nevertheless immortal for he lives on for ever in the hearts of the people.

This is the fourth movement of my Māui Cycle, a concerto for clarinet (which symbolises Māui ) and orchestra. The other movements are: Te Ika a Māui (The Fish of Māui ), I mau a Tama te Rā i a Māui (Māui Slows the Sun), Na Māui te Ahi a te Ao (Māui Brings Fire to the World).

Kit Powell

Kit Powell Photo: kitpowell.ch


Born 1937 in Wellington Kit Powell met Brigitte, his Swiss wife, while studying in Europe in 1966/67. Since 1984 the Powell family have lived in Switzerland. He has an MSc (in maths) from Victoria University of Wellington and a B Mus (Hons) from Canterbury University. He taught maths and music at Linwood High School, Christchurch, and also composed music for a series of 5 total theatre productions. In 1975 he joined the staff of the Christchurch Teachers College where he met the poet Michael Harlow and started the first of nearly 20 works in collaboration with him. He was also active teaching courses on New Music and Creative Music with children. Since living in Switzerland he has taught music theory at the Conservatory in Zurich and English privately. In 2003 he retired from teaching but is still very active composing.

Important influences in his development as a composer in NZ are the contact with Douglas Lilburn as a student, the visits to the Cambridge Music School in the early 60s (tutors Ron Tremain and Larry Pruden) and in Europe courses at the Accademia Chigiana, Siena (Goffredo Petrassi), Darmstadt Course for New Music (Karlheinz Stockhausen) and training in computer music (Gerald Bennett) in Zurich and on the UPIC machine (Iannis Xenakis) in Paris.

His works include compositions in all fields of music: choral (sung and spoken), orchestral, chamber music, brass band, percussion, music theatre, electroacoustic. His special interests in composition include the use of chance techniques and also music with found objects. Many works have been written for his two children, Philip (trombone) and Fiona (soprano).

Although he has lived in Europe for well over 30 years, Kit Powell has never lost his strong feelings for New Zealand, its land and its inhabitants. Bird and whale song are often important features of his music, and works like Tide Pools and Kapiti show his affection for New Zealand seascapes. In his  Māui Cycle, in addition to the birdsong, one also hears many fragments of traditional Māori music.

Recorded 13 October 2014, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert for 2014 NZ Composer Sessions.

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