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FROM SEA-GREY SHORES
Commissioned by RTÉ (Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster) for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and premiered in November 1999 at the National Concert Hall in Dublin under Gerhard Markson, From Sea-Grey Shores was subsequently included on the orchestra’s debut tour of the United States in 2003. The tour culminated in a performance at Lincoln Center.
The music is a response to the spacious landscape of the West of Ireland and the shimmering movements of the sea along the coast. Solo strings are given a prominent role, emerging freely from the full string sections with melodic fragments.
The music was written at various locations - my home in Galway, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig (an artists’ residence), and Renvyle House in Connemara. It is from one-time owner Oliver St. John Gogarty’s description of Renvyle as a ‘sea-grey house’ that the title is drawn, and his writings about the Connemara landscape provide the best preparation for the listener:
‘My house...stands on a lake, but it stands also on the sea - waterlilies meet the golden seaweed. It is as if, in the faery land of Connemara at the extreme end of Europe, the incongruous flowed together at last, and the sweet and the bitter blended. Behind me, islands and mountainous mainland share in a final reconciliation, at this, the world’s end.
There was something else, something indescribable, but as real as dim colour or soft sound. It was the spirit of the place...the soft atmosphere made you feel that you were in a region that was your proper home, a home where there was neither time nor tide, nor any change at all.’ — Jane O’Leary
FROM SEA-GREY SHORES: "there was a generic international quality to her musical language, which alternated tension-filled atonal episodes (astringent stacked-up Varèse-like harmonies, shot through with jagged thematic lines) with calming, misty-textured tonal passages…the music was smartly constructed and full of color."
FROM SEA-GREY SHORES: "The piece is far from being grey but is full of exciting detail, as the sea is when it meets a rocky coast. Written as an 'opening piece' it has a preparatory nature and when the strings have, as it were, caught the start of a big tune, everything dissolves in foam."
The Ship of Death
The Ship of Death, a dramatic work for Male Voice and Chamber Orchestra, is based upon the poem of the same title by D. H. Lawrence. Though preliminary work (research, sketches, etc.), had begun on The Ship of Death as early as November of 1974, Lopez started the actual composition of the piece in Paris, France in September of 1976 at the beginning of his tenure as a GEORGE LADD PRIX DE PARIS recipient. Lopez completed the score seven months later in April 1977.
During the copying and editing of the piece, Lopez listed various techniques and procedures which he developed or explored in The Ship of Death as a post-compositional review, a list which reflects his general attitude and approach to composition while in Paris and the immediate years following: multimodality; polyserialism; equation of the linear and vertical dimensions, text-motive associations; polycanon; density structures; modification of attack, sustain, and decay patterns; predetermined macrocosmic structure; rhythmic-metric flexibility (irrational rhythms, metric modulation, multimeter, fractional meter, proportional time notation, box notation, sign-time notation, notated accelerandi and ritardandi); formal disintegration; open form.
The Ship of Death begins with an instrumental Prologue. The Glockenspiel first states the “self” motive in rapid figuration. This motive exerts structural and gestural control over the Prologue and Section I, remains dormant from Sections II to IX, and reappears transformed in Section X, the transformation of which reflects the poetic content (“... and the body, like a worn sea-shell, emerges strange and lovely.”). Immediately following the “self” motive, the Horn introduces in juxtaposition a long-held note that slowly crescendos. These two musical elements generate the contrasting forces which subsequently sustain the balance and drama of the work. The principle of polar opposition thus established in the opening measures of the Prologue is more generally reflected in terms of the breach of tessitura achieved at bar 52 (@ 1 min., 45 sec.), pace and figuration (e.g., the Glockenspiel and Horn figures in bars 1-3), and long term manipulation of the metrical evolution. More specifically, even as the highs and lows split apart, strive to attain their own universe (bar 52), so do also metric determinism and freedom strive to attain their own universe. Moreover, the general crescendo extending through bar 52 to the structural downbeat at bar 80 (@ 2 min., 10 sec.), reflects and is supported by this principle of opposition, and this struggle to achieve structural juxtaposition reflects in musical terms the tremendous struggle it must surely take to launch out the fragile ship: one part of the self reluctant to let go, the other part too impatient to let go. Hence, the splitting apart musically has its own poetic base.
Overlaying melodic fragments build up the first climax which ultimately results in a double five-part canon from bars 30-40. The tempo, range, and density increase, culminating in an atmosphere of extreme frenzy. A high point of this kind never returns over such an extended time. The second climax consists of a homophonic texture which is reached by way of the convergence of various melodic strands, a process which reverses that of the first climax. Instead of noticeably short and fast figures as the primary gesture, long held notes and chords predominate; the harmonic rhythm becomes evident and deliberate; simplicity is the key. Such a passage had never appeared over a comparable time. We can now understand the relationship between these two high points in terms of the second providing an adequate response to the first, of the first providing a statement in which the response already lies implicit (i.e., in dialectical juxtaposition). If the first climax represents in musical terms the point of departure, the effort expended to launch out the “ark of faith”, then the second represents the repose of “coming into port,” of arrival, or in poetic-psychological terms, the moment of rebirth, of beginning again. With a piece of this scope, minutes rather than seconds serve to specify on a structural-formal level those special poetic moments which may be instantaneous. The piece is in fact both a magnification of microcosmic time and a telescoping of macrocosmic time: the first in the sense that special instantaneous poetic moments are expanded in temporal relief, the second in the sense that one’s whole life, as it were, is compressed into some forty-two minutes of musical time. In any event, the second climax arrives to clarify both poetic and musical ambiguities.
Lopez states that he began the composition from an understanding of the poem as a vision of the promise, challenge and reality of rebirth and resurrection. Inherent in this understanding lies the observation that the close of the poem implies circular return. The bold color imagery and content of the poem supports an interpretation of an ongoing, infinite process of journey taken on the ship of death which everyone must take. This aspect of circular return and infinitude was so strong for Lopez that he wanted to reflect in musical form the nonresolution of the poetic content, to capture in the musical form the infinite number of possible journeys inherent in the text (individual interpretations of the poem, journeys into and out of the subconscious, one’s unique longest journey to oblivion). For The Ship of Death, open from provides such a formal framework: working with specific givens but not fixing their macrocosmic relationships in such a way as to provide endless variation while allowing for sufficient overall formal control to successfully effect a “coming into port” at the close. Lopez summarized all this in a chart of the Background Tonal Design and Formal Syntax which 1750 Arch Records included in its liner notes.
The Ship of Death is a multi-sectional work composed attacca throughout as a single movement composition. The duration of the complete work is 42 minutes, and thus it was necessary to select excerpts from the full work to fit into the allotted time for this release. The composer has carefully selected and combined these excerpts to preserve the original dramatic intent, context, and literary content of the full work. To learn more about the poem, compositional details and original program notes released on the 1750 Arch Records label, refer to the composer’s website: www.peterdicksonlopez.com
DREAMS OF THE EARTH
Soft waves of undulating chords float through the string orchestra, twisting and shimmering like tendrils of a dream. A cello melody emerges from the swells and heralds a change. Violins buzz like cicadas in an interlocking pulsing canon that travel in waves of intensity, while the low strings sing out as the voice of the earth with a heartfelt, bittersweet melody conjures up hope, suffering and love.
This music is inspired the sight of a swirling flock of birds circling in the sky, the rising/falling swells of cicada song in summer, and ecological concerns about our changing climate.
It is a concert platform reworking of a large-scale installation work for string orchestra and percussion called Song to the Earth, which was co-commissioned by Bleach Festival, 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Arts & Culture Festival, and City of Gold Coast. This recording is supported by Regional Arts Development Fund, a partnership between Queensland Government and the City of Gold Coast Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland. — Corrina Bonshek