|About this Recording|
Jenny McLeod (b. 1941)
Jenny McLeod was born in 1941 in Wellington, New Zealand, and studied in the 1960s with Douglas Lilburn at Victoria University of Wellington, then in Paris with Messiaen and in Cologne with Stockhausen. An early avant-garde chamber work, For Seven, had some success over the years in Europe, Britain, the United States and New Zealand. Formerly Professor of Music at Victoria University, Jenny McLeod has composed piano, vocal, choral, chamber and orchestral works, film and television scores, as well as three large music-theatre ‘spectaculars’ for schools and amateurs—Earth and Sky (1968), Under the Sun (1970), and the Wellington Sun Festival (1983)—an ‘outdoor harbour extravaganza’. McLeod has had a long association with the New Zealand Maori people (a number of her texts are wholly or partly in Maori) and was a pioneer mover in the nation’s later burgeoning biculturalism. She is also known for her work with the ‘tone clock’ theory, a chromatic harmonic theory formulated by the Dutch composer Peter Schat (1935–2003) whom she first met in Kentucky in 1987. Her more recent output includes three song cycles to poems by iconic New Zealand writer the late Janet Frame, one of which (The Poet, for chamber choir and string quartet) was chosen to represent New Zealand at the 2009 International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. In the 1996 Queen’s Birthday honours she was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and in 2008 received the CANZ (Composers’ Association of New Zealand) KBB Citation, for services to New Zealand music.
The three pieces here were written in the mid-1980s, during a period when the composer (having rebelled against her avant-garde, and later primitivist, youth to the extent of touring New Zealand in the 1970s with her own pop band) had begun to write pop-influenced ‘classical’ music for classically trained performers. Part of a series of concert and film commissions that followed, this is the music of a composer who for a time refused to ‘grow up’, declaring that writing and performing music should be ‘enjoyable’. Though poignant touches can be found, those in search of something deeper and darker must look elsewhere in her work. The strokes here are bold, simple and colourful, with clear-cut traditional or sectional structures, uncomplicated development if any, popular rhythms and marked dance elements. Exuberant, warm and tuneful, with descriptive, evocative titles underlining a more than occasional resemblance to her own film scores, this is music for the young at heart, for ‘ordinary people’.
The Emperor and the Nightingale, for narrator and orchestra
Commissioned in 1985 by the Wellington Regional Orchestra (now the Vector Wellington Orchestra) for a family concert under Sir William Southgate, as part of the 1986 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts in Wellington, The Emperor and the Nightingale has subsequently been performed by a number of New Zealand regional and youth orchestras. The version recorded here was revised by the composer in 2010. The text was adapted by the composer from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Nightingale, in the English version found in The Yellow Fairy Book (1894) edited by Andrew Lang (1844–1912) and translated by Leonora Blanche Alleyne Lang (1851–1933).
Long ago, in a far-off land, there lived an Emperor.
Her song was so glorious that everyone who heard her was astonished!
‘What’s that?—a nightingale?’ he said, when the news reached him.
He called his First Lord, a very grand fellow, who only ever said “Pooh!” to anyone less important that dared to speak to him.
‘Ooh! Aah! Help!’ said the First Lord, and off he ran—upstairs, downstairs, and all over the palace, and the rest of the court ran with him, for nobody wanted to be trampled underfoot!
At last they found a little kitchen girl who knew where the nightingale lived, and she led them into the forest.
On the way, they heard some cows mooing.
Everyone was full of wonder. ‘Oh, esteemed little nightingale,’ said the First Lord, ‘you are hereby invited to the court this evening, where His Most Gracious Imperial
‘My song sounds best out in the open, among the trees,’ said the little gray nightingale.
At the palace everyone scurried and bustled, to prepare for the great occasion.
The little bird’s song was so beautiful it brought tears to the Emperor’s eyes.
And so months and years went by…then one day a large parcel arrived at the palace.
It had a large key sticking out the side, so they wound it up!
And so every day now, the clockwork bird had to sing, and all the court praised its marvellous skill.
Then one night as the Emperor lay in bed listening …the clockwork bird had broken down!
The Emperor was so sad, he took to his bed and became ill.
The moon shone down so silently.
Then all at once, through the open window…yes, from far away,
The Emperor’s heart beat faster and faster!
‘Don’t do that,’ said the little nightingale. ‘It did what it could!
And the Emperor fell into a deep, calm sleep as the nightingale sang—all night long, she sang and sang.
And when the servants came in next day, to bury their dead
Rock Concerto for solo piano and orchestra
The Rock Concerto began life in 1986 as a (first) Rock Sonata for piano, a work with strong classical roots and in places of Lisztian difficulty, commissioned by the New Zealand pianist Bruce Greenfield for his gifted virtuoso pupil the seventeen-year-old Eugene Albulescu. (Partly on the strength of this score, the composer was invited in 1987 as an international guest composer to a ten-day contemporary music festival in Kentucky, hosted by the Louisville Orchestra for its fortieth anniversary.) At Albulescu’s request, in 2009 she scored and revised the rock sonata as a piano concerto which he might also direct from the keyboard.
The first two movements are in sonata form, each complete with first subject, transition theme, and contrasting second group, with a classical-type development section, at the end of which there is also an opportunity for an improvised cadenza (Albulescu’s idea, and an uncommon feature of his performances—by his own desire held well in check, however, in the present recording). Though the music is newly composed, and its rhythmic language is very much of our own time (in a popular sense), it is also strongly impelled by the spirit of Beethoven (Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Debussy, Gershwin …)—the ‘distant friends’ referred to in the first movement. Another friend was Charlie French, to whom the second, rather darker movement (scored for solo piano, strings and flute alone) is dedicated. Charlie was an Australian aboriginal activist who shared our home in Wellington for a time and later succumbed, alas, as an early victim of Aids. The headlong last movement is in rondo-sonata form, with a Latino romp as its recurring rondo, a nursery-type second theme, and a development-cum-episode that starts in a quasi-Iberian vein. Each movement has a coda (in the first and last cases quite extended), and each may also be played independently.
Three Celebrations for Orchestra
Commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for their fortieth anniversary celebration in 1986, the Three Celebrations were first performed and toured by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Hungarian conductor János Fürst, and later toured again by the orchestra under Japanese conductor Mishima Inoue. Again, each movement may also be played independently.
The composer had in mind various kinds of scene familiar to New Zealanders:
I. Journey through Mountain Parklands—the grandeur of the southern snowy mountains (‘imagine breath-taking lowflying aerial vistas opening up from peak to peak, or driving through such a landscape, dwarfed by towering alps, with this music blasting away on your car stereo’).
II. At the Bay refers to Pukerua Bay on the North Island west coast north of Wellington, on a still summer’s day, and the composer’s idyllic terraced hillside garden, replete with native trees and ferns, and the slow surge and flow of the sea below.
III. A & P Show evokes a typical kiwi Agricultural and Pastoral fair, with sideshows, merry-go-round, ferris wheel and other rides, displays of farm machinery, and competitions for baking and preserving, homegrown vegetables, prize animals, etc.—still a highlight of the year for the average family in rural New Zealand.
Music scores and parts by Jenny McLeod are available from the Centre for New Zealand Music (SOUNZ), PO Box 27347, Marion Square, Wellington 6141, New Zealand or via their website at www.sounz.org.nz or (e-mail) email@example.com
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