Joe Stollery

composer

This website details the compositions and performances of composer Joe Stollery.

2013

(MIDI recording)

As someone interested in his local environment, the poetry of Ted Hughes has fascinated me since secondary school, and for my second year composition portfolio I chose to set his poem ‘Hawk Roosting’. The poem, which describes the thoughts and feelings of a hawk as it meditates against a sunset, gripped me with its development of the hawk’s menacing imagination out of the calm backdrop of twilight, and the variety of moods involved in it suited it well for a setting.

The song is through-composed, and divided into six sections, one for each verse. The poem is structured so that each verse describes a particular thought in itself, and this helped me to develop my piece, structuring it in the following way:

Verse 1: Sets the hawk in its natural environment near twilight, with a calm mood.

Verse 2: Hawk ponders on the lightness of his body and how it suits his agility. Light mood, then moves too-

Verse 3: Describing his hold on the branch beneath him, symbolising his hold on his environment, strict and articulate.

Verse 4: Hawk then talks of flying up above the world as an alternative domination. He climaxes by showing instincts of killing his prey, gliding mood which intensifies savagely, leading to-

Verse 5: Hawk describes his control over who dies and survives in his environment. Broad and solemn mood, which dies away.

Verse 6: Returning to the present mood of the natural environment, Hawk comments growing twilight, reiterating his desire to keep things his way. Dark, subdued mood which dies down, then finishes on a savage tremolo in the bottom of the piano.

A rhythmic motive stands out throughout the piece, perhaps representing the heartbeat of the hawk. This motive occurs in various guises, from the highest notes in the tranquil opening bars, to the profound bass-range in the dark coda. The piece also modulates frequently, beginning and finishing in the realm of f# minor, while modulating through alien keys.

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(MIDI recording)

A short choral piece written for my second year Contemporary Choral Music course. The original text is by F. R. McCreary.

The final line of the poem interested me particularly in its symbolism, and as can be seen in the score, it has made an effective, and yet simple, coda.

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2015

(MIDI recording)

This single-movement song cycle sets four very different texts that are each connected in that they concentrate on the idea of wind and its effects on the environment. The first poem (‘A Song to the Wind’) by the ancient Welsh poet Taliesin, is an invocation which introduces the wind, and the opening verse is used here as the prologue. The final verse also provides an epilogue after the wind has disappeared. The other three poems in between describe the beauty and power of the wind in different degrees of force in different locations. The first one (‘A Summer Wind’) describes the gentle but dominant presence of the wind in a wood, as it rustles the trees. In contrast, the second poem, simply named ‘Wind’ by Ted Hughes, is violent and dramatic, as the wind whips up a tempest against the poet’s house in the Welsh hills. The final poem (‘The Evening Wind’) created by the American Romanticist William Cullen Bryant, describes in great magnificence a fast but matured wind as it runs across the sea and to the land on the other side of the ocean, and the first two verses are set here.

In composing the piece, I have been inspired by works such as Britten’s Nocturne,Op.60. In a similar vein to that piece, the texts have been connected together to form a narrative that describes the wind as it hovers over the various locations, and piano interludes have also been composed to connect the separate songs together. In a sense, this song cycle could also be considered a tone poem, with the piano depicting the wind throughout as it blows across the different locations. In fact, the order of poems not only works well aesthetically, but also makes geographic sense. ‘A Summer Wind’ is set in a wooded glade, presumably in the Midlands where Michael Field lived. Ted Hughes’s ‘Wind’ is located at the poet’s house in the Welsh hills, and ‘The Evening Wind’ seems to describe the wind coming in from the Atlantic Ocean to the coast of New England. This overall order suggests that the eponymous wind is moving westward, predominantly over Wales, hence the title ‘A Wind over Cambria’.

The synopsis of the cycle goes as follows:

1. Prologue – ‘A Song to the Wind’ (first verse) by Taliesin – Introduction to the wind.

2. Interlude – Wind begins to pick up and starts travelling.

3. 1st Song – ‘A Summer Wind’ by Michael Field – Wind blowing gently through a wooded glade.

4. Interlude – Wind picks up further, approaches a house.

5. 2nd Song – ‘Wind’ by Ted Hughes – Wind attacks against a house, with a tempest.

6. Interlude – Wind leaves house and pushes towards the sea.

7. 3rd Song – ‘The Evening Wind’ (first two verses) by William Cullen Bryant – Wind moving with full force over the sea, approaching land on the other side of the ocean.

8. Interlude – Wind slowly dies away.

9. Epilogue and coda – ‘A Song to the Wind’ (final verse) – Final invocation to the wind, with a final ghostly reference before finishing.

Several leitmotivs have been used throughout this piece. The most important one to represent the wind has been used throughout the piece to further connect the songs together. In its basic form, it consists of a series of notes descending in thirds, as can be seen, for example, at the very start, in the vocal line.

This song-cycle was the first piece of three to be written in my final undergraduate composition portfolio, created between October 2014 and Spring 2015. It hasn't yet been performed.

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2016

(MIDI recording)

This short piece for chorus and piano is my interpretation of a scene in Percy Shelley’s hidden drama Prometheus Unbound (Act II.iii.54-98), describing spirits travelling down to the abode of Demogorgon.

Partly inspired by the treatment of the Lyke Wake Dirge in Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, I have structured the whole setting so that each verse has roughly the same harmonic progression, but moving down a minor third each and every verse. The phrase ‘Down, down!’ is used as a recurring figure in the music, and the main melody was developed according to the emotional and dramatic properties of the congruent text. I also utilised the phonetic sound of the consonant (n) in ‘Down’ by sustaining it at some points for timbral effect. Overall, I wanted to convey the sense of moving through an uncanny, featureless tunnel to an equally uncanny destination, moving through all the trials and challenges along the way, and finishing on an unsettled note despite the sense of resolution in the tierce di Picardie at the end.

The piece was written for a course in Words and Music as part of my MMus at the University of Aberdeen in March 2016.

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