Chamber choir SSSSAATTBB (can be sung be 10 solo voices)
Commissioned by the Adelaide Chamber Singers with financial assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council
First performance by Adelaide Chamber Singers conducted by Carl Crossin, St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide, 10 December 2005
For a decade before composing this piece I had thought of writing some choral music that celebrates the act of singing. The Adelaide Chamber Singers’ 20th anniversary finally provided the excuse I needed.
There are two sorts of text in An die Musik, literary and non-literary. The former consists of two long poems by David Malouf and Gwen Harwood, and one sequence of three short poems by Thomas Shapcott. All these words were written in the late 20th century by Australian poets, and all deal with ‘composed’ music, indeed Shapcott’s ‘Piano Pieces’ are really about composers. The non-literary texts which ‘interrupt’ the others are folk poems/song from Malaysia, the Pueblo Indians and the Finnish Kanteletar, and they are about singing. The first two are freely adapted by the composer from The Penguin Book of Oral Poetry (1978, ed. Ruth Finnegan). The Kanteletar extract was adapted from a translation by Anni Heino.
An die Musik was commissioned with financial assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council by the Adelaide Chamber Singers. It is dedicated to them on their 20th birthday and to my friend and colleague Tristram Cary on his 80th.
Andrew Ford's An die Musik made an illustrious debut in the warmly welcoming ambience of Adelaide's St Peters Cathedral just two weeks before Christmas Day. Commissioners Carl Crossin and his Adelaide Chamber Singers gave their most recent gesture of confidence in Australian composers poll position, immediately after interval, in their 20th anniversary concert . . . The refinement and security of its premiere performance were tributes both to the composer's intrinsic understanding of how voices work and to the huge amount of very intense practice and study by the conductor and singers that went into its preparation . . .
Ford's ear for a settable text sits alongside Britten's, and the poems by Australians David Malouf, Thomas Shapcott ('Brahms', a graceful musical as well as verbal tribute) and Gwen Harwood, plus one each from [Malay], Pueblo Indian and Finnish sources, morphed into songs as if taking the next step in their evolving lives. The music, although looking complex on the page, was wondrously easy to listen to, given that the complete text was printed in the programme.
The perfect match between verbal and musical moods was a constant a delight; a tiny dig at Webern's sparseness, whimsy to match David Malouf's 'inner lives of pumpkins' and 'Bruckner coaxes the zucchinis', the all too topical Pueblo lines 'I heard the cry of an ancient people, "We who die await the dawn"' set with plangent emphasis. In the main an ensemble piece, An die Musik's occasional solos from Emma Horwood's exquisitely tuned and toned soprano sounded as though custom written.
Elizabeth Silsbury, Opera-Opera