Universal Necrophilia was written for the Leeds University Union Music Society (LUUMS) annual composition competition 2006. The piece is, essentially, a short concerto for timpani with percussion and string orchestra. The aim was to avoid all sense of conventional concerto or other overtly soloistic style in favour of a fully integrated musical discourse. I’ve been pre-occupied for some time with the idea of musical narrative as well as with the circumvention of novelty and cliché; Universal Necrophilia deals only with these pre-occupations. The title is a quote from Theodor Adorno’s ‘The Final Trick’, in which the author implies that neo-classicism is obsessed with dead musical devices and languages. In my piece the idea of re-contextualised cliché, for example, suggests a link to ‘over-done’ (dead?) musical figures from the past. Similarly, the idea of writing a timpani concerto is regarded by many as a non-starter – dead before it begins. The concerto format itself is sometomes considered a musical relic, which is one of the reasons for avoiding the word ‘concerto’ in the title.
I decided to focus on close and subtle interactions between the various instrumental groups; timbral similarities and sonic events take the place of melodic material and harmonic climaxes (such as cadences). I didn’t want to use either of the two common concerto formats: a soloist supported by an accompanying ensemble; or a vigorous, virtuosic battle between soloist and orchestra (from which the soloist inevitably emerges victorious). Instead I opted to combine the ensemble and the soloist and treat them as one entity. Gesture guides the music throughout as material is exchanged between the strings (who sometimes operate as a mass, sometimes as a rich spectrum of many parts) and the timpanist; the percussionist operates alone for the most part, adding counter-gestures or accents, occasionally taking part in the main musical discourse. The soloist, the percussionist and the string ensemble are all share a common facet: there are four timpani, four tom-toms and temple blocks (perhaps the two most important instruments in the percussion part) and each string instrument has four strings. In addition to this, each player has alternative sound sources: the timpanist can add objects to the drums, the percussionist has another three instruments and the string players, like the soloist, can play other parts of their instruments. It is these relationships that formed the basis for composition.
Universal Necrophilia is dedicated to Roddy Hawkins, who conducted the LUUMS Symphony Orchestra in the 2005-2006 season and to Kate Whitaker, the orchestra’s timapnist.
Can be performed with a standard size string orchestra with sections divided into smaller than usual groups
Leeds University Union Music Society Composition Competition Winner 2006
June 2006: Kate Whitaker (timpani), Roddy Hawkins (conductor), LUUMS Symphony Orchestra, University of Leeds
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