2008 AUTORAP II for mixed choir

AUTORAP II for mixed choir (2008)

Autorap (an autopsy on Autopia) was inspired by John Henley Jasper Heathcote-Williams’ poem ‘Autogeddon’ (London 1991) about our obsession with cars, the way it controls our behaviour and affects our environment. The language is at once serious, sarcastic and full of witty punch lines ridiculing if not damning our dependence on this tyrant of progress. The statistics he used (about emissions, accidents, energy consumption and so on) were bad enough for the year the poem was written – the situation has only worsened since – but they still speak to our imagination with the same ferocity, which is what matters.

The original version is for male choir and the long text had to be abridged (with permission of the author) to fit into the average length of a choir piece that was to be part of a collection of four studies for large male choir, which together form my Choirbook part 1 (1999). The spirit of the poem drew me into the realm of a rap parody with the ‘rapper’ backed up by a bass-line from the Swing era, set in a barbershop-style close harmony and supported by the relentless off-beat of clicked fingers. Starting in G-major it runs through all the keys to end in G again. The choir is usually in the background but every now and then it joins the rapper, commenting on or reinforcing his lines.

Autorap II is an arrangement for mixed choir. It was written at the request of the Netherlands Student Chamber Choir (www.nskk.nl). Because of its association with close harmony and barbershop singing, I was at first reluctant to make an adaptation for the much wider ranges of a mixed choir. Although I gave in after the choir’s conductor, Maria van Nieukerken, didn’t take no for an answer, I was yet to be convinced of its feasibility. However, when I started work on it I began to discover new potential and with hindsight the effort may have paid off. One of the first actions I undertook was to transpose the whole score upward a perfect fourth i.e. Autorap II starts now in C and ends in C. This was a justifiable step since the original bass line was for very low voices indeed (hitting low C a couple of times). From then on several sections began to fall into place quite naturally until the whole exercise became plain sailing thereafter.