This piece was written in late 2012 as part of my second year composition portfolio at university.
'Firmament’ refers to the constant movement of the heavens and the earth, and this composition therefore works in patterns that move in their own way. The heavens are represented by four metal instruments and the earth by four wood instruments.
The piece is divided into three sections: the first for metal instruments alone, the second for wood instruments alone, and the third for both types together.
The first part involves long, quiet, sparse notes, over a big range of metal idiophones. The second part builds up a 3-bar pattern on the dry wooden instruments. This builds up to a climax until the returning tam-tam announces the third section, which brings both patterns together in a slightly irregular manner.
The down-bow sign over the cymbals means they must be bowed. The (+) sign over the claves represents a dampened note, while the circle represents a normal note.
After hearing the unique instrumentation of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, I was inspired to write a piece for a similar sized ensemble, with added viola and percussion.
The piece is divided rigorously into a five sections, consisting of a prelude and four variations in different rhythmic styles, all holding a similar tempo. The structure is as follows:
Prelude (bb. 1-8)
Allemande (bb. 9-23)
Minuet (bb. 24-63)
Sarabande (bb. 64-83)
Jig (b. 84-end)
Also following on from Schoenberg’s practice, I have made this piece atonal, although there is a slight leaning towards tonality in the minuet and jig, and the piece finishes on C major in order to resolve all dissonance. Throughout the piece, I’ve integrated a hexachord based on the notes C, D, E, F#, A# and B. This hexachord appears in various guises both as chords and as melodies.
This piece was written as the first composition of my third-year portfolio, in the 'Chamber Music' module.
In this piece, I decided to compose something descriptive in an instrumental context. The result is basically a conflict set in music, with the two pairs of instruments (woodwind and strings) making up the two ‘sides’. The piano acts as a kind of mediator, keeping the sides together, and the percussionist plays like a referee.
The differences between the two groups are not only reflected in their type, but also in their tonal realms. While all instruments use natural accidentals, the flute and clarinet lines also use sharps, but no flats, while the violin and cello have flats but no sharps. The piano uses both sharps and flats, and ‘communicates’ with the different groups with their appropriate accidentals. The timbres also differ, with the woodwind being light and mischievous and the strings being heavy and intense.
In a sense, the piece is programmatic, but I have tried to make the narrative of this piece as objective as possible. It is structured thus:
INTRODUCTION (bb. 1-60): The percussionist announces the start of the piece, followed by the piano. The other instruments then enter in their respective groups, first flute and clarinet with a spiky fugato, and then violin and cello in a more sustained character, and finally both groups together. The differences in character between the two build up tension, which continues on into the next section until the percussionist calls for order.
1st DIALOGUE (bb. 61-70): The piano ‘welcomes’ the full ensemble, then the two groups start debating with one another, the woodwinds chattering and taunting, and the strings moaning and sneering. The woodwinds introduce the following episode.
1st DANCE (WOODWIND) (bb. 71-95): The two dances use each group exclusively, accompanied by the piano. The first dance is a light, lyrical pastorale in A major for woodwinds, introduced and finished by crotales.
2nd DIALOGUE (bb. 96-105): The strings interrupt the final chord, causing uproar from the woodwinds. The following arguments show separate instruments against each other: flute & cello and clarinet & violin. The strings then introduce their episode with some vehemence.
2nd DANCE (STRINGS) (bb. 106-130): This dance is a fast, brutal jig in C minor, introduced and finished by suspended cymbals.
GENERAL CONFUSION (bb. 131-159): At the same tempo as the preceding dance, the woodwinds start up a chromatic theme, which is quashed by the strings. What follows is a large fugato episode which builds with ever-increasing hysteria. Throughout the episode, the percussionist attempts to calm them down using different instruments, including a railway whistle at the climax.
3rd DIALOGUE (bb. 160-167): On the last climactic chord, the piano hammers down dissonant chords for order, then goes into dialogue with both groups, demonstrating their characteristics and their accidentals.
FINALE (bb. 168-197): After the percussionist announces the same theme as at the very start, the piano then introduces a theme for the woodwinds to take up, followed by its inversion for the strings. Eventually, common ground settles in, and the music finishes diatonically.
This piece forms the second of three in my fourth year portfolio. It was submitted for the Carlaw-Ogston Composition Award 2015, and was premiered as a finalist by the Spectrum Contemporary Music Ensemble.
This piece was inspired by the range of hills called Bennachie, which has been an important inspiration to me since my early life, having grown up in the land surrounding the hill. I have also chosen to compose it for saxophone quartet, as the alto saxophone is my main instrument.
I composed most of this piece outside, in locations not far from Bennachie, such as Easter Aquhorthies Stone Circle. The importance of these places is that Bennachie is always present in the background. This is also where I got my title ‘Echo of Bennachie’ from, as the piece is not really an actual representation of the mountain, but more a shadow, or an ‘echo’ of it.
The piece is through-composed in terms of overall structure, but I have concentrated on developing some germinal motifs in the piece. Most of it is developed from the very first F drone played on the baritone saxophone.
In general, the piece is very sparse in terms of atmosphere, and I have also used extended techniques such as toneless breaths and key-clicks throughout to help develop this soundscape.
This piece forms the third and final composition in my final undergraduate portfolio.
The score presented here is in C.
Written for the same ensemble as Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, the basis for this piece was the stone circle outside my family house near Pitfichie, however it can be applied generally to any of the many stone circles dotted around the region. The title came about after thinking of the aspect of the recumbent, a large stone laid horizontally at one end of the circle and flanked on either side by menhirs; a design that is generally unique to the North-East of Scotland. Although little is known of the recumbent’s original purpose, its layout and position does seem to suggest a doorway which leads into another, more fantastical world, at least in my opinion. The idea then came about that more came to this secondary world as my imagination developed staring at this recumbent from inside the circle, and so for this piece I decided to create a rigorous set of developing variations that represented the different stages of creation in this world.
It starts with the base theme, a long, roughly dodecaphonic sequence in the piano alone. This symbolises the bare earth at the beginning of its existence.
The first variation introduces the other three instruments, adding new timbral colour and harmonies to the theme, before rising to a climax. This could suggest the start of plant-life in this otherwise barren world.
The second variation is much more pointillist, with a cornucopia of brief, varied sonic outbursts scattered across the instruments. These suggest to me the sounds of animals coming to life.
The third variation continues in the preceding manner, but now establishes itself as a march. The base theme is now transformed into a more tonally focused melody akin to early Stravinsky, and has a rigorous ternary form to it. Overall, humankind could have appeared by now, evolved from the animals.
After a massive climax, the theme returns to its original form as the other instruments slowly dissipate leaving the piano to reprise the opening. After a few brief animal chirps from the other instruments, the piece ends with two sharp but quietly hushed bass chords on the piano.
This piece was written for McOpera, who rehearsed it on 5 February 2016 at the University of Aberdeen.
The score presented here is in C.
It seems that every ruined castle has at least one bloodthirsty story surrounding it. In this piece, it was the ruins of Kildrummy Castle that formed the basis for this piece. I have visited this castle many times, and I recently got captivated by the legend of a local blacksmith in the early 14th century, set against the backdrop of the Scottish Wars of Independence. The blacksmith, Osbarn, was notorious for his disloyalty, and during a siege of the castle, he managed to get bribed by the invading English forces, who promised him all the gold he could carry if he managed to surrender the castle. He did so by setting fire to the food stores and thus starving the castle. After the castle surrendered, Osbarn came to collect his gold, whereby it was all poured down his throat, summing up the moral that treachery will always be repaid by treachery.
For me, such a legend screams for an operatic adaptation, and I came up with the idea of premiering such an opera at the original location, just like in my previous opera The Maiden Stone. The piece that eventually came to be would hopefully make up the overture to this projected opera. Although the piece is not explicitly programmatic, I was always thinking of the original legend, and some of the thematic material and its placement in the music were inspired by events in the story.
I was inspired musically by the forms of Beethoven’s incidental overtures to Egmont and Coriolan in particular for this piece, and there may perhaps also be rock and metal influences in some of the brutal harmonic nature and obsessive rhythms of this music!
Choosing the instrumentation was relatively straightforward: I wanted capture the psychological aspect of Osbarn’s persona in the dual forms of fire and hammering metal, represented by a brass septet and four percussionists respectively.
The score presented here is in C.