This piece is based on the painting of the same name by Campbell Lindsay Smith (1901), which itself is based on an old ballad about two ravens discussing what to do with a dead knight they have just found. Encountering the painting in Aberdeen Art Gallery with the ballad printed next to it, I found myself captivated by the macabre tone of both media and the connections to each other. I wanted to add a third musical medium, creating a triptych of music, painting and poetry.
The music follows the story of the ballad closely. It begins with the ravens settling down next to the dead knight. They strike up a conversation, discussing his fate and the loss of those faithful to him, such as his hawk, who flew off in search of more carrion, and his wife who took another lover. They finally begin eating his corpse. For the most part, the music is atonal, although there are many attempts to establish a tonality.
The piece is scored for alto flute (doubling flute) and bass clarinet. These two instruments represent each bird and the outer sections of the piece take the form of a musical dialogue. There are also leitmotivs to represent the knight’s horse, his raven, his hunting dog, and a fanfare to mark his heroism, all twisted to suit the dark tone of the subject matter. The instruments have certain characteristics, the bass clarinet being more impetuous than the cautious alto flute. However, these instruments take on a more theatrical role in the middle section, which takes the form of an ironic love duet between the late knight and his wife. The aforementioned leitmotivs are incorporated within the duet, and at the end of this section, in a mockery of heightening emotion, there is even a suggestion of the ‘Liebestod’ from Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, which soon collapses back into the atonality of the ravens’ dialogue.
In the last section, the ravens finally decide to eat the corpse, and the music becomes almost aleatoric as the ravens’ pecks are depicted in a sinister fashion as quiet staccato notes. The piece ends with a breathless noise from the alto flute in reference to the final lines of the ballad: ‘Oer his white banes, when they are bare,/The wind sall blaw for evermair’.
This piece was composed for the ‘Painting with Sound’ event as part of the sound festival 2013.
The piece is in ternary form, and it is constructed mainly of motives that are repeated over and over again in different variations.
The A section (bb. 1-51) is in Bb mixolydian with a tonic drone borrowed from bagpipe music throughout the whole section and consists of irregular quaver groupings in 4/4 divided as 3+3+2 and 3+2+3. The B section (51-141) is more atonal, beginning with a transition that changes the time signature to 9/8. The return of A (141-end) involves an extension of the coda, building up through dissonant chords before finishing on Bb.
The title refers to the Scottish-born environmentalist John Muir, as he sails for the Celtic ‘land of youth’, AKA America.
In this piece, I wanted to convey the excited anticipation brought about as John travels for the wilderness of the New World.
This piece was written for the 'Minimalist' module of my third year composition course, and forms the third and final piece of that year's portfolio.
(Tom Michie - piano, Brodie McCash - percussion)
The genesis of this duet for piano and tuned percussion came about after visiting Forvie Nature Reserve. Hidden amidst the sand dunes is said to be a ruined medieval village destroyed by a storm which left it buried in the sand. The only thing that is left visible above the ground today is the ruined church. In this piece, I paraphrased and developed a left-hand sequence from Debussy’s piano prelude La Cathédrale Engloutie, a piece which has a similar stimulus, describing a sunken Breton cathedral that rises above the sea at certain times. Overall, I wanted to capture a sense of elegy in this piece, inspired by the ruins and all the history held in them.
In terms of harmony for the right-hand piano and percussion, I used a system in which I created a sequence of chords based on a seven-note diatonic scale. The melodies I created for this piece have a modal feel about them, with harmonies also inspired by the likes of Debussy. I also wanted to capture the idea of bells throughout, particularly in my choice of percussion instruments, being tubular bells, vibraphone and crotales played on a range of different felt beaters for dynamic contrast.
The piece was written for the Carlaw-Ogston Composition Award 2016, where it won 2nd prize overall.