A large proportion of my works could be termed as programme music in that the music relates to some other extra musical concept. Of these story telling and influences from the theatrical medium are a recurring theme. This series of 4 blogs will outline the four different ways I have dealt with the issue of storytelling and the different kinds of relations between words and music that can be found in my works so far.
Story telling and music have been related for thousands of years. The marriage of words and music in fact is undoubtedly the oldest form of multi-disciplinarity. This marriage is not limited only to opera but to several other musical forms (actually opera is one of the most elaborate forms of multi-disciplinarity). A typical example is a particular type of Maltese folk music known as ‘Għana tal-Fatt’ (literally singing about facts). In this form of Maltese folk music the words are precomposed (unlike in other forms where they are invented on the spot) and they usually recount some tragic tale. In the age before radio and television and when very few people could read this was a form of news communication. Folk singers would move from one village to another singing about a particular event.
The first kind is story telling is without words at all. No voices or text are involved.
One of my pieces entailing story telling which works in this way is ‘Ġahwra – Sound Sketches from Malta’ for flute, clarinet in B flat, guitar and cello which recounts a short ‘holiday at home’. This piece was commissioned for the Bangor New Music Festival and was premiered in 2002 in Bangor, North Wales by Ensemble Cymru. It was played in Malta for the first time in 2015 at the Archbishop’s Curia, Floriana. The full piece can be heard here. This piece uses extended instrumental effects amongst other techniques to achieve it’s story telling. The piece is in 7 sections. Section 1 (0:00- 1:07) is a view from the air as the excited tourists are about to land, Section 2 (1:07- 1:38 ) depicts the hectic atmosphere in Malta International Airport’s Arrivals Lounge, Section 3 (1:45- 3:38 ) describes Għar Lapsi - a unique beach near my native village of Siġġiewi , Section 4 ( 3:38 – 5:00) depicts the hectic scenes in Valletta, Malta’s Capital City while Section 5 ( 5:00-6:20 ) depicts the quite, old Capital city of Mdina. Section 6 (6:20-8:45) takes us to a typical folk feast ‘Mnarja’ which takes place not far away from Mdina. The last section (8:45 – 10:17) takes us back to the airport, this time at the departures lounge where the tourist leave, taking away with them enchanting images of our beautiful islands.
Another work which recounts a story using music only is Postcards from Mars (2005) for 2 flutes. As the title indicates this piece recounts an imaginary day on Mars from ‘Dawn at -150OC’ to ‘Shifting Sands’, ‘Solar Storm’, H2o ?’, a ‘Glimpse of Earth’ and ‘Lifeless Dusk’. As with Ġahwra the piece uses a lot of extended effects on the flutes. It was premiered in 2014 by two professional flutists from Malta.
The third piece in this category is ‘Waiting for Godot’ for symphony orchestra composed in 2006 and premiered in 2007 by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The piece is inspired by and reflects the philosophical concepts of the play by the same name by Samuel Becket (1906-1989). Such philosophical concepts are the absence of something, the interchange ability of characters, the lack of progress and the wait for something which never comes. Waiting for Godot is also a clear example of the influence of the theatrical medium in my music.
The Missa Brevis (2010) also sets text to music acoustically but it is different then the previous pieces in that it uses voices only (double choir, soprano tenor). The Kyrie was performed in Moscow in 2013. My (to date) only Oratorio , Versus (2015) also uses voices only but since it uses electronic music influenced techniques it will be dealt with in the next blog .
Comeback to our blogs next Friday when the second part shall be pubished.