In Memory of Those Who Couldn't Marry
I’m pretty excited about this… The Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) are apparently letting me have another go at them. I composed a piece for them this year called Ghosts in the Orchestra, where I get a bunch of singers from my choir The Australian Voices (TAV) to stand among the orchestral players and sing instructions at them. The instructions get unrolled into little symphonic miniatures.
TAV and QSO will team up again for this new piece, slated for premiere on Saturday 14 February 2015 at the season opener at QPAC, directly before Beethoven’s Symphony Number 9 in D minor. I'm looking forward to working with the fabulous baritone David Wakeham, whom I'll make the protagonist of the work.
So for this piece, I want to compose something that will complement the Schiller text An die Freude – sung in the fourth movement of the Beethoven – and cast it in a 21st century light.
The text I’ve settled on is The Trillion Souls, by Andy West (a BBC reporter, and a really top guy!). In memory of the countless dead who could not marry, he addresses the trillions* of gay people who’ve ever “lived and loved and longed alone”, inviting them to "join us here” and “to rise up and be known.” Read it here. It’s gorgeous, and I think puts into poetic language what’s in the hearts and minds of most people (have a tissue-box stationed nearby).
I'm dedicating the work to the memory of Alan Turing (1912-1954), who saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades. He was convicted for homosexuality in 1952, a time when such acts were still criminalised in the UK). After receiving oestrogen injections (chemical castration), he died in 1954, just shy of his 42nd birthday. An inquest ruled it a suicide.
I’m going to pinch a bit of Beethoven for the main tune of the work. I’ve taken the famous Ode to Joy melody and inverted it. That makes it a mirror image of the tune instead of the original; a step upwards becomes a step downwards. This is a technique I love to use all over the place in my music, because it means motifs can be transformed into something both familiar and new. In a little nod to an archaic meaning, I’ve nicknamed the tune Ode to Gay. Here are the two tunes, side by side:
There’s a passage in the Schiller Ode which has particular resonance:
Whoever has been lucky enough
to become a friend to a friend,
Whoever has found a beloved wife,
let him join our songs of praise!
Yes, and anyone who can call one soul
his own on this earth!
Good one, Friedrich! ...Friendship, love and just being yourself.
I think the issue of gay equality and marriage will come to define our time. So why not write a symphony about it?
* yes, "trillions” is possibly an wee-bit exaggerated, but the word “billions” (while more accurate) is such a hum-drum word, appearing daily on television sets and financial forecasts. Andy and I prefer “trillions”.