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Atlantis : flute with piano

by Derek Strahan (1992)

Voodoo fire


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Voodoo fire : and other works / by Derek Strahan.

Library shelf no. CD 1883 [Not for loan]



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Score & Part

Atlantis : a work for flute/alto flute and piano / by Derek Strahan.

Library shelf no. Q 788.32/STR 1 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

STRUCTURE: This work is not concerned with stories, so much as with evocation and with memory. (for background "stories" see other notes) It is divided into 3 parts, and thus corresponds in structure to a traditional classical sonata. Part 1 evokes memory from the perspective of the present time. If Atlantis was indeed where Plato seems to suggest, in the Atlantic Ocean off the Straits of Heracles (Gibraltar) it was in an unstable area of the earth's crust. Part 2 evokes collective memories - of sea birds wheeling over lost land, and of eels traveling vast distances apparently in search of a lost mating ground. Then memory becomes reality as the music passes through the time barrier and actually takes us to Atlantis, to experience a lover's idyll in a romantic setting, this corresponding to the slow movement of a sonata. Part 3 seeks to portray the fabulous metropolis and its concentric circular harbours as meticulously described by Plato, of which the ancient Cross of Atlantis is said to be a diagrammatic emblem.

BACKGROUND: The name "Atlantis" is found in writings by the Greek philosopher Plato dated from 4 B.C. The passages describing a former civilization of that name are found in texts which include other verifiable history of the writer's own time. Plato's account of "Atlantis", however, describes an island empire which existed 9,000 years before his own time, and which was destroyed in a cataclysm sent by the gods. It was "swallowed by the sea and vanished in a single dreadful day and in a single dreadful night." Plato's account has always been controversial. It presents figures from Greek mythology as historical people. It seems to imply knowledge of the Americas before they were "discovered". It claims that a high civilization existed during the Ice Age. And it claims that this civilization was destroyed by a cataclysm of such magnitude that it could not have been a local event, but a global one, of universal significance. Plato stated that the information was of Egyptian origin, which raises the possibility that written records about Atlantis did indeed once exist in the great libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum before they were destroyed in successive waves of conquest. Many cultures have myths of not just one but several global destructions, and many of these accounts, being enshrined in religious belief, have some authenticity as tribal history. Much of what Plato reports about civilization in pre-history has parallels, for example, in the Book of Genesis in Hebrew scripture, which itself is based on earlier Sumerian literature. At the time of composition I was less concerned to build an operatic storyline on the subject, than, as a first step, to devise thematic material and leitmotifs which could be used (ultimately in a proposed opera cycle) to evoke images of the place and time of Atlantis as described by Plato, and of the key mythological figures who have ambivalent status as gods, symbols and real people. Words in bold in the score indicate persons and concepts for which leitmotifs were created. Plato states that Poseidon was the first ruler of Atlantis, that he married a native woman, Cleito, who bore him five sets of twin sons, the most important of which was Atlas who became the second ruler of Atlantis. Plato portrays Poseidon, in this context, as both a god and a real person. As a ruler he laid the basis for government of his island empire and also laid down the laws of succession. As a sea god in Greek mythology, Poseidon had the power to raise storms and cause earthquakes, using his trident as a means of controlling the elements. What this might boil down to, in the way mythology works, is that the land Poseidon ruled was subject to seismic disturbances, and that he, as a god, came to embody these forces. Atlas is also associated with seismic disturbances, in his role as a giant supporting the earth on his back. (When Atlas shrugs the earth shakes). In terms of musical expression, I have treated Poseidon and the primal forces he represents as one entity, and I have treated Atlas in the same way. Poseidon's wife, Cleito, exists only as a name and I have had to use my intuition in finding a theme for her, which turned out to have the character of a lament. This is because the age of Atlantis follows the legendary Golden Age which seems to have been the age of matriarchal rule, when humans lived closer to nature (as portrayed in my Scena "Eden In Atlantis" for soprano, flute & piano). Then later Atlantis had its own more material Golden Age.

Work Details

Year: 1992

Instrumentation: Flute/alto flute, piano.

Duration: 20 min.

Contents note: PART 1 - 1. Dolphin’s Ridge -- 2. Eruption, 1882 -- 3. New Island -- 4. Evocation of Atlantis -- PART 2 - 5. Birds in Search of Atlantis -- 6. Collective Memory -- 7. Fugue for Eels (variations on the “Atlas” motif) -- 8. Through the veil of time -- 9. Circa 15,000 BC -- 10. Nocturne - Et In Arcadia Ego -- PART 3 - 11. Metrolpolis -- 12. Outer harbours (Fugue on a theme for The Cross of Atlantis) -- 13. Atlantis – The Golden Age.  

Commission note: Commissioned by Michael Scott with funds provided by Australia Council. Performing Arts Board.

First performance: 13 Nov 92. Joseph Post Auditorium, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Composer note: As Mozart is quoted as having said: "The essence of music is melody", and this work is full of both tunes and motifs. It also makes frequent use of counterpoint to weave this material into structures and passages that have extra-musical reference, so, although it's written as a chamber duo, its essence derives from the orchestral tone poem, as pioneered by Richard Strauss, here disguised as a classical 3-movement sonata.

Performances of this work

8 Nov 2017: at Lunch Hour Series: Strahan, Piazzolla, Gaubert (Pilgrim Church). Featuring Jennifer Bird, Won Jung Lee.

13 Nov 92: Joseph Post Auditorium, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

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