Scenawas written as an entry for the Terra Nova Composition Competition 1987. It was not successful.
The text is taken from a variety of sources, linked by selections from The Wasteland by T.S.Eliot. Under this scheme the Tenor Solo takes the part of Tiresias, the hermaphrodite observer from that poem. During the 'scene' he 'remembers' a variety of episodes, usually romantically or sexually based, from works by Dylan Thomas, James Joyce and D.H.Lawrence. The latter's 'contribution' is taken from the seduction scene in Lady Chatterley's Lover - the whole scene was cut to the bone by the composer, leaving only the most lurid and erotic phrases.
Perhaps in an unconscious reaction to the complexities of the earlier pieces Dirges and Dances (submitted for the MA examination), and String Sextet, (see above), Scena was a very different experience compositionally. It differs from the former pieces in that it has a text, and, due to the structure of the text, is split into seven short movements or songs, and this had a considerable affect on the process of composition in that a large proportion of compositional decisions were answered in the process of formulating the text.
However, there are similarities to the Sextet, most notably in the use of contour, although in this piece the contours are used in considerably less complex forms. Due to the small but recurrent nature of the movements, there is little time or need for large passages of development or change, and so the simplicity more structural.
The piece is a set of songs linked by a recurring 'chorus', the text of which are the recurring 'recitations' of Tiresias placed throughout The Wasteland. They provide an element of overview to the textual process throughout the piece as a whole: that is, the development from love and sex to death.
Musically, the 'choruses' are typified by a melodic fragment or contour: the individual notes may change, but the shape remains. This idea in obvious in the opening page of the piece, where all the instruments playing use similarly shaped ideas. Of course, the freedom of using this also means that varying material is easily generated.
The voice does not take part in this melodic development. It usually plays a more lyrical role influenced by word-painting and effects than the instrumental material, (e.g. 'throbbing', page 3; 'wrinkled', page 4; etc., etc.)
(T.S.Eliot, The Wasteland)
As mentioned above, this is a 'chorus'. The main 'theme' is gradually revealed through the bass clarinet (ex 1:5) , double bassoon (ex 1:6) , horn and lower strings supporting a more '3-D' network of these figures in the harp, (ex 1:4) .
The melodic shapes are subsequently explicitly given in the flute, oboe and violin.ex 1:12 & 1:17 respectively. This melodic shape plays a part to some extent in all other pieces in the portfolio.
This movement also witnesses the appearance of a further figure that is to play a part in future pieces. It is tied onto a version of the above contour at the end of the movement,(ex 1:41-1:49) , and is a simple downward moving, staccato or spiccato, non-diatonic scale.
II Your Pain Shall Be A Music
(Dylan Thomas, Selected Poems)
III Do You Know...?
(James Joyce, Selected Letters)
These are two rather simple songs. The fact that the text of the second is prose makes it more of a 'recitative' than an 'aria'.
IV I Tiresias (2)
A recurrence of the Tiresias character. his vocalizing is very much affected by the previous songs, as well as the forthcoming piece...
V She Lay Still...
(D.H.Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover)
Once again, a prose section of text, or rather a text that is based on a highly poetic section of Lawrence's book. The passage chosen struck me, as it has infamously struck many others, as a passage where the 'normal' boundaries of a form were broken through by the force of expression, mirroring in a way the manner in which was discussed in the Introduction above with regard to music.
The text moves abruptly from breathless, percussive passages to highly florid melismas, and this called for a certain treatment in the music, which likewise moves from unpitched or semi-pitched sprechstimme to fully vocal and virtuosic singing. Against this, a small group of woodwind and percussion instruments provide a primitive backdrop. The number of sea/water metaphors, especially at climactic passages,
and like a sea...nothing but dark waves rising...heaving...with a great swell...rolling it's dark dumb mass...
provided an ideal opportunity for musical symbolism, as well as fitting in very well with the final song...
VI I Tiresias (3)
...It also provides an excellent precursor to the final Tiresias excerpt, which 'looks back' on the (in the Eliot, rather dismal and depressing), love scene.
VII Death By Water (Phlebas the Phoenician)
(T.S.Eliot, The Wasteland)
The rather melodramatic tolling of a 'death nell', (harp) at the end of No 6 leads into the 'finale', and a series of contours taken form the opening movement. This song is, structurally, a coda, and so there is a lot of the opening material, interleaved with a variety of 'sea pictures' inspired by the text. The piece concludes with a concatenation ofex 3s.
3.3 Local and Global
The Graphic Analysis shows the basic form and relative proportions of the piece. As with the text, it was designed as a single entity, with the climax during the latter stages of the fifth and longest song. To this extent, it still has a certain resemblance to the single movement form as described in the Introduction above, only the Tiresias episodes mark the beginnings of theA, B, and A' sections and Phlebas the Phoenician represents the coda.
The main influences which can be seen affecting this piece are from Birtwistle's operas The Mask of Orpheus and Yan Tan Tethera, the latter of which had only recently been first performed. From these pieces, the exceptionally long woodwind phrases, often keening over rapid and diverse textures are the most obvious audible influences. There is also a distinct hint of the Surge Aquilo movement from Stravinsky's Canticum Sacrum the instrumentation of which (tenor voice, flute, cor anglais, harp and three? double-bass soli) had appealed to me for many years.
Like the String Sextet, Scena was written for a competition rather than a specific performance, and like the Sextet, it was unsuccessful. Unlike the Sextet, no reasons were proffered for this rejection, although, again, the piece was certainly longer than the specified time. Again unlike the Sextet, Scena has had very little success in other fields. It is the only piece in the portfolio (of those that have been submitted)not to have been shortlisted for performance by the SPNM, and reactions to it have been rather lukewarm. I'm frankly a little baffled by this, as, in my opinion, it's one of the best of my pieces, and still I retain a fondness for it. Perhaps because it is a song-cycle rather than a formally larger-scale piece, and because of it's simplicity of expression, I feel that it is one of the most direct, warmest and least harrowing of my pieces.