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Program note: Colin Brumby's "Phoenix and the turtle"

  • program note by the composer

The Phoenix and the Turtle was commissioned by Musica Viva (Australia) for the 1974 tour of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-fields under Sir Neville Marriner.

Coming soon after my return from twelve month's post-doctoral compositional study in Rome (where I was confronted with some of the most "advanced" compositonal techniques of the day), I decided that this commission provided me with an ideal opportunity to clarify my preferred, personal compositional style.

But where to start?

It was probably no accident, that in initiating a stylistic rebirth (as well as seeking an idea with which to flesh out the commission), I should have resorted to the image of the phoenix ... the mythical bird which, having seli-immolated, was reborn from its own ashes.

I vividly recall sitting at the piano, depressing middle C and E above it, and actually saying aloud to myself, "I believe in major thirds and major seconds, and their inversions (minor sixths and sevenths)". From that point it was clear the direction that my harmonic language was to take in rebuilding from the "ashes of the old".

It must be made clear, however, that in deciding to use the same title for my work as the Shakespearean poem, there was never any intention of attempting a musical (programmatic) parallel between the music and the poem, even if such a thing were possible.

I simply let the poem act as a catalyst on my musical thinking.

Insofar as the poem has been said to celebrate "the decease of two, chaste lovers, who were perfectly united in an ideal passion", I wanted my music to be also a response (if any influences are to be acknowledged at all) to various great "love musics" such as Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, Pelleas and Melisande...as well to the excitement generated by the Shakespearean poem

To that extent, The Phoenix and the Turtle has been pivotal in my output, enabling me to reattune to my personal "muse", and resulting in what I believe subsequently to have been some of my happiest musical creations.


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