Kōrero: Composers

Whārangi 2. New influences, 1960 onwards

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

By the 1960s women composers were more visible and audible. From this time, too, composition was often influenced by environmental and cross-cultural concerns, and interest in Māori music and instruments revived. The establishment of the Composers’ Association of New Zealand in 1974 was an important milestone.

Annea Lockwood

Annea Lockwood made her reputation in London’s avant-garde scene of the 1960s and 1970s. After emigrating to the United States, her 1982 two-hour sound installation A sound map of the Hudson River showed a move towards environmentally inspired sonic art.

Jenny McLeod

The magnificently sprawling Earth and sky (1968) was the signature work of Jenny McLeod. This theatre piece, based on Māori creation legends, used both young musicians and professionals, in idioms ranging from chant to sophisticated instrumental writing. Later she pursued a more populist style in the film score The silent one (1984), and embraced Māori issues in her massive choral work He iwi kotahi tatou (1993) and the opera Hōhepa (2012).

Gillian Whitehead

Gillian Whitehead’s oeuvre includes major orchestral scores such as Resurgencies (1989) and operas including Outrageous fortune (1998). She relinquished her cerebral approach of the 1960s and 1970s for more open, spontaneous methods, calling on the improvisatory skills of Richard Nunns and others. Nunns’ taonga puoro (traditional Māori instruments) featured in many works, including the poignant 1999 Hineraukatauri.

John Rimmer

The New Zealand landscape proved a potent force in the music of John Rimmer. Rimmer’s major orchestral scores ranged from his 1980 Concerto for viola and orchestra to the 2002 Europa, a concerto for orchestra and brass band. On the electroacoustic side, there were 10 ground-breaking Compositions for various performers and electronic sounds (1968–77). Fleeting Images (1985) used granular synthesis to catch the subtle inflections of nature.

Ross Harris

Early on, Ross Harris balanced serious and popular. As well as producing complex instrumental and vocal compositions he wrote the soundtrack for the 1977 television series The governor. He also joined in freewheeling live performance with Jonathan Besser as the duo Free Radicals. His 1984 Waituhi – the life of the village, with librettist Witi Ihimaera, was an ambitious operatic venture, and his collaborations with poet Vincent O’Sullivan were significant. In addition, five symphonies, two concertos and other works were commissioned by the country’s two major orchestras.

Cross-cultural composing

The gamelan, a traditional musical ensemble from Indonesia using instruments such as gongs, drums, metallophones and xylophones, and tuned according to two different systems, has strongly influenced several New Zealand composers. In particular, it features prominently in the output of Jack Body, and is also central to some of Gareth Farr’s work.

Jack Body

Much of the music of Jack Body looked to the East, including his award-winning electroacoustic work Musik dari jalan (1975), the 1987 Three transcriptions written for the American Kronos Quartet and his opera Alley (1997), based on the life of Rewi Alley. Body was unstinting in encouraging other composers, organising projects such as Sonic Circus events in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. His enthusiasm for the transcription of other musics culminated in the Songs and dances of desire: in memoriam Carmen Rupe (2013).

John Cousins

John Cousins was best known for electroacoustic work and performance art. His 1979 Sleep exposure involved taped material, often evocatively sourced from real life.

Lyell Cresswell

Lyell Cresswell moved to Scotland after his New Zealand studies, establishing an independent European reputation. His terse, sometimes rugged style could reveal an idiosyncratic humour and his numerous local commissions included the brilliant 2006 Alas! How swift for trumpet and orchestra.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

William Dart, 'Composers - New influences, 1960 onwards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/composers/page-2 (accessed 22 June 2024)

He kōrero nā William Dart, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014