Soapbox : for brass quintet
by Iain Grandage (2011)
This work takes as its starting point the events of 1629 on the
Houtman Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia. On
4th June of that year, the Dutch East India Company (VOC)
merchant ship Batavia ran aground on a reef near Beacon Island
and was wrecked. After Pelsaert, the commander of the ship, had
set off to Batavia (now Jakarta) with the skipper (the
questionable Jabosz) to seek rescue, the remaining 200 people on
the islands were subjected to the most horrific ordeals at the
hands of a self-styled egomaniacal overlord Jeronimus Cornelisz.
His abiding belief, related to the heretical ideas of Torretius,
was that since he himself was a creation of God, any act he
committed must, by extension, be an act of God. This resulted in
acts of the most heinous brutality that reduced the population of
marooned survivors by over a hundred, and only ended with
Pelsaert's return and Cornelisz and his co-conspirators being
tried and punished for their crimes.
I am intrigued by the psychology of domination that is inherent in Cornelisz's reign of terror, and this lies at the core of my response to this inherently dramatic story. The work is in five movements, with each performer in turn playing from a metaphorical soapbox in the centre of the group. In some instances (namely the 1st and 3rd movements), their material, via a microphone and loop station (a modern day megaphone, if you will), is replayed, looped and electronically treated to create worlds within worlds of texture.
This idea of worlds within worlds is also reflected in my use of extant source music material - Dutch music of the 17th Century, specifically that of Jan Sweelinck. I have quoted him twice - a traditional folk song Mein junges Leben hat ein End' 'My young life is at an end', forms the core of the first
movement, and Paduana Lachrimae - Sweelinck's own arrangement of the famous John Dowland ayre 'Flow My Tears' in the final movement. As with many of the works in the Ocean songs group, 12 tone rows are present - in this instance taking the Lachrimae as their starting point.
The work is written for and dedicated to the incomparable Australian Brass Quintet, whose virtuosity and wondrous musicianship are a pleasure to be around.
Instrumentation: 2 trumpets in C, French horn, trombone, bass trombone, electronics (loop station, delay pedal and powered speaker).
Duration: 16 min.
Contents note: 1. The State -- 2. The Skipper -- 3. The Island -- 4. The Heretic -- 5. The Past.
Commission note: Commissioned by Ian Potter Cultural Trust for performance by Australian Brass Quintet.. Commissioned for the Fremantle Arts Centre’s 2011 soft soft loud chamber music series, made financially possible through the Emerging Composer Fellowship from the Ian Potter Cultural Trust
First performance: by Australian Brass Quintet — 31 Mar 11. Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth
- Has as subject/About: Western Australia
Performances of this work
31 Mar 11: Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth. Featuring Australian Brass Quintet.
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