for orchestra, chorus and pre-recorded voices
Performed by Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Marko Letonja
The voices you will hear in Blitz are those of elderly men and women who were children in Liverpool, Berlin and Hamburg during World War II. After London, the port of Liverpool was the most heavily bombed British city, more than 4,000 people dying there during the course of the war, mostly in December 1940 and May 1941. In Hamburg, during three nights of Allied bombing in July 1943, approximately 45,000 people died. There was similar loss of life in Berlin.
Though the impulse to compose this piece of music came, initially, from a desire to share the childhood stories of my parents and their friends in Liverpool during the war, and to juxtapose these with accounts from Germany, the music itself took over quite quickly. This is a piece of music, not a documentary. And yet in several senses this music relates rather strongly to the stories being told.
There is, for example, the music of the voices themselves. Although the recorded interviews were edited for content, in the context of the orchestra I treated them as solo instruments. In some cases, I composed conversations between a voice and an instrument, such as the duet between my mother and a trombone that begins about five and a half minutes into the piece ('Most people where we lived had Anderson shelters').
Blitz also contains two important musical quotations. The first consists of the opening bars of Bruch's Violin Concerto in G minor, various transformations of that falling three-note melodic figure permeating the piece – in fact the theme is already being transformed before it is heard in its original form. And why the Bruch? Well the slow-motion falling figure struck me as a useful musical symbol for dropping bombs, but also, more prosaically, from 1880 to 1883, the German composer was chief conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society.
The second quote is the great Lutheran chorale, Vom Himmel hoch which Bach used so memorably as the basis for his set of canonic variations. At the point in Blitz at which the English voices give way to German voices, I needed something momentous to happen. I was attempting to find a musical equivalent of the firebombing of Hamburg, though of course supposing it were even possible, such music would be too awful to listen to. But what, I wondered, if I were to produce a great peal of C major at this point, lighting up the musical sky, not with horror, but with something awful in the true sense – music that is full of awe. So you will hear three statements of the hymn tune, played simultaneously at different speeds in a kind of ecstatic cacophony.
Blitz was commissioned by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra with assistance from the Sidney Myer Fund. It is dedicated to the people whose voices you hear during its course. They are, in order of appearance, Ken and Pat Wilson, Alec and Marjorie Ford (my parents), Hansjuergen Enz, Ursula Ezimora and Edith Bauermeister.
- orchestra, recorded voices and chorus