1999 CHOIR BOOK part 1, 4 studies for male choi

KOORBOEK DEEL 1 (Choirbook part 1) for male choir – 1999, consists of four studies for male-choir and were written at the request of the Westfries Mannenkoor, which draws its 80-strong forces from my native Westfriesland in the Netherlands. The bulk of the choir’s repertoire being overtly traditional, it was with a mixture of apprehension and recklessness that it agreed to an experiment with a composer not known for his softly-softly approach to stagnation. For me, the challenge lay in the truism that innovation can be reconciled with tradition and that conventional language can be stretched and drawn into new territory. The attraction lay in the deep beauty of the choir’s sonority and the sheer endless vistas of possibilities its riches aroused in me.

Each study deals with a totally different subject matter, as can be expected from ‘studies’.

1. Ab Origine is an exercise in speed, rhythm and adrenaline. It is inspired by the ‘monkey-dance’ as I remembered it from a French recording in the early sixties, sung by an indigenous male choir from Bali. I invented my own set of vocals, reminiscent of that song, but designed to build structures of increasing polyphony with cross-references amongst the voices that would yield interesting rhythmic turbulence. If one isn’t familiar with the ‘monkey-dance’, perhaps I should mention a better known example of male chanting whose purpose it is to raise levels of adrenaline before entering into battle: New Zealand’s All Blacks Rugby Team’s battle-cry, the haka. With that spirit in mind the music can make an impact. It requires that all inhibition be conquered… in fact, it should be the music’s main aim!

2. El Tren is based on a poem by Miguel Hernández, written during the Spanish Civil War. I chose the poem at the time when Kosovo was invaded and cleansed by the Serbs. Its objective is to elaborate on harmonic conventions and to get familiar with a measure of freedom in metric patterns which follow the Spanish text as closely as possible. It is also a piece to demonstrate that all is not lost in contemporary music… El Tren appears again as one of the movements in Entre el Olivo y el Hombre (2003),

3. Inferno (Uest) is an exercise for double-choir. Each part is split in half, without separating the singers. This creates certain opportunities which I explored in a much bigger and systematic way in my composition for mixed choir, Du-Dich-Dir. The study contains a theatrical element when it comes to expressing my satirical depiction of infernal ‘ecstasy’. Fragments of text are from Dante’s Inferno. A minor deviation from his poem occurs where I substituted ‘Fiorenza’ for ‘Uest Frisia’…

4. Autorap is an introduction into the phenomenon of ‘rap’. The choir provides a background based on a popular and rather ancient bass-line from the Swing era. Its ‘tune’ runs through all the keys from G to C to F etc. back to G again, and is subject to constant variation. Occasionally it comes to the fore or engages with the rapper in some form or other. The ‘rap’-text is a heavily abridged and slightly adapted version of AUTOGEDDON by Heathcote Williams (London 1991). Several solo-voices are called upon during this number, but Voice 1 is the main rapper and should be able to dominate the choir with ease, i.e. loud and clear. The help of amplification may be considered.

Note: a version for mixed choir – Autorap II – has been created in 2008 at the request of the Netherlands Student Chamber Choir (NSKK).