Devil's Music, The
Distant Shore, A
From Fire Co..
Ghosts of Reason
Going Into Sh ..
I Am Black
I Am Writing...
In Tempore Stellae
Journey to Horse..
Lines Drawn Fr..
Meaning of Water
Once upon a time
Quicksilver Ser ..
Song of Songs
Sound Lur and...
St Peter's Suite
Stick Dance II
Stick Dance III
Symphony No. 1...
Symphony No. 2...
Symphony No. 3...
To the evening...
1. Dead Song
2. Wave Music and Strange Hymn
4. Night Flight
5. trans . . .
"Mephisto" was composed in the first half of 1990 in response
to a commission from Elision Ensemble with funding assistance from the
Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council. The original brief for
the work was to compose a sextet (flute, clarinet, guitar, violin, viola,
double bass) calling on the ensemble's normal membership excluding percussion.
The name "Mephisto" conjures numerous references: the movie
of the same name, the many instrumental and operatic versions of the Goethe
and Lenau versions of Faust (particularly Liszt's The Dance in the Village
Inn - Mephisto Waltz No 1), Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, Thomas Mann's
Doktor Faustus, the wonderfully awful Alan Alda film Mephisto Waltz .
. . The various tellings of this seminal story of the diabolical bargain,
point to its status as an archetypal and potent myth which is inextricably
tied to art and its role in society, or rather, the artist's Romanticised
role as both transcender of the ordinary and threat to society: someone
potentially in league with the Devil. What is also striking is that so
many of the tellings of the same myth are themselves concerned with other
tellings of the story and contemporary preoccupations, thus building up
a matrix of layered meanings that is quite tantalising. With these abundant
resonances it is not surprising that I chose to put the title "Mephisto"
in inverted commas - one cannot come prima facie to a story like Faust
but only through the filter of what has been done with the story. The
title is a reference to more than just a name.
One of the most common cinematic and literary conventions of recent years
has been the parallel narrative. In this, two apparently unrelated stories
are told alternately; the separate stories inevitably intersect and shed
light on each other at some point. So for example, in the film Mephisto,
the desperate political compromises of the actor in his search for power
during the rise of Nazism are contrasted with the same actor playing the
lead part in a production of Goethe's Faust. Metaphor and reality unfold
simultaneously; in hindsight, we know the two stories are, in fact, the
For some time I have been interested in a kind of musical version of the
parallel narrative. In the music of Stravinsky (Symphonies of Winds),
Messiaen (almost anything), and Sculthorpe (Mangrove) there are certainly
formal structures approaching this. In "Mephisto" there is an
attempt to follow through the parallel narrative by having three related
short movements (1, 3 and 5) containing a single strand of ideas but which
variously propose, interrupt and comment on the more programmatic, conventional
story of movements II and IV. To achieve this sense of unfolding, means
that the traditional desire for rounding-off and closure at the end of
movements has to be delayed to the last possible moment; that is, at the
end of the work. Likewise, the scope of the segments has to be kept more
curt than would be expected in order to propel the listener into the next
part. In a sense, therefore, the work can be seen as a single movement.
An important part of maintaining the individuality of the different parallel
stories is the manner in which they are told. So, in "Mephisto"
the use of instruments reflects this. 1 - Dead Song is a kind of seance
for flute solo. 2 - Wave Music and Strange Hymn expands from a drifting
guitar and double bass duet to the full ensemble's rendition of what may
be a revivalist hymn (sung to ward off the unknown) in which the clarinet
asserts itself to the point where it heads in its own direction by beginning
the next movement. 3 - Interlude is a splintered or mosaic version of
the opening flute solo scored for clarinet, alto flute, double bass and
viola. Deliberately unintegrated, it is a negative point in terms of intensity
for the work as a whole. 4 - Night Flight is a Danse macabre for an age
that does not believe in devils. The idea for its frenetic energy came
whilst taking off at night in an airplane and makes reference to the frantic
and fantastic horse rides of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz and Schubert's song,
Who rides so late through the night and the wind?
It is the father with his child;
he folds the boy close in his arms,
he clasps him securely, he holds him warmly.
[Johann Goethe, Erlkönig, trans. Phillip Miller]
Night Flight is essentially another ensemble movement but begins with
the guitar and violin which were excluded from the preceding Interlude.
The movement breaks into soloistic sections, particularly for violin and
double bass who have especially demonic and virtuosic parts. 5 - trans
. . . recalls the flute solo of Dead Song which it now shares with the
guitar to the dying accompaniment of the balance of the group. The literal
meanings of the prefix "trans" are "across, beyond, crossing,
on the other side."
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