This is the first of a set of four duets written for the Shrapnel/Lewis Piano Duo. These pieces are a reflection of my love of jazz and, as befits a ‘square’ classical musician a more or less complete lack of ‘swing’.
Niobium is a ‘steely’ metal and the piece reflects this – brutal stamping chords and fanfares with many flattened fifths, and much use of the ‘octatonic’ scale. Irregular silences and briefer, quiet sections give contrast, but the threatening mood returns, until the very last inconsequential last chord.
The idea behind this piece was the observation by my friend, the late Georgie Wise, who once pointed out that this station has a delightfully old fashioned Edwardian look about it. With the woodland like view of the trees in Ladywell Fields from the far platform of the old station building (built I believe in the 1860s), you could almost believe you had arrived at a country station circa 1908. With that in mind I wrote the piece, attempting to depict this atmosphere with sounds of twittering birds, old steam trains and train whistles. The piece is dedicated to Georgie. Read more
Lewisham Market (2013) depicts this busy inner city market with its crowds of bustling shoppers, the calls of the stallholders, the chats, jokes and the occasional argument.
The left hand of the first bar was the initial inspiration for the whole piece, which has several distinct sections. The first is like a standard song, with a Latin inspired interlude, leading to a grandiose page or so. Then a longish more minimalist central section, which uses all major and minor chords. This dies out, hesitatingly returning to the first song idea.
The piece concludes with a hectic coda, full of rushing scales between the players finishing with a mighty slam of a chord combining three major chords, F, F# and G.
I chose a strangely named element to call this rather strange piece. Hugh asked me to write a slow non-jazzy piece for a change and this is the rather Gothic-sounding result, an exploration of two or more tonalities simultaneously with large arpeggios flowing between the players.
3rd Lamp post in Tressillian Road
Just off Hilly Fields in Brockley, South East London. Dedicated to John Lewis who suggested this title for another piece for Tales of SE London. The title inspired the music and it is left to the listener to supply the tale!
At the Rivoli
The Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley is the only intact 1950s ballroom in London and is notable for its ‘eclectic mix of neo-classical, Deco and oriental motifs set within an exotic and luxuriant decorative scheme’. The music, a lopsided waltz in 5/8 time, depicts the sometimes rather uncertain dancing steps of a devoted couple getting on in age and looking back to the time when they were young.
Hunt Hunt is dedicated to the Save the Lewisham Hospital Campaign which succeeded in defeating the previous Health Minister Jeremy Hunt from downgrading the Hospital in 2013, (he lost 2 court cases over the issue)!
The music quotes the Dad’s Army theme which was made into a song in support of the campaign ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Kershaw…’, ‘Kershaw’ being Matthew Kershaw, the government appointed ex-leader of the South London Healthcare Trust who drew up the original plan to downgrade Lewisham Hospital. The ending is partly inspired by the spirit of the song Stand Up!, written in support of the campaign by the rap group Question.
Bromine is one of only two elements which are liquid at room temperature (well, a spoon of Gallium will melt if you stir hot tea with it). A flowing liquid piece was called for, initially high-register quintuplets over interlocked smoochy minor and major 7th quaver patterns.
However, remember Bromine is a foul-smelling dark red poison. The music becomes more menacing, and after initial climax followed by a sweet C major repose, the lower player plays the faster rhythms. Cross-rhythms are constant throughout, increasing in complexity and speed until they are playing 6 against 7, with increasing dissonance too.
After the final massive chords, interlocking quavers return, this time meandering down the whole keyboard in a continual diminuendo, finally reaching the single bottom C sharp the piece started with.
I felt the need to write an easily playable and cheerful piece. A few simple motifs (dropping chromatic 5ths, repeated notes, little fanfares, etc.) are developed between the players, giving the piece a slightly Satie-like air.
Or the ‘Winged Messenger’, quicksilver, demands a fast tempo. The 12/8 metre exploits the many ‘polyrhythms‘ available: 3×4, 4×3, 6×2 and larger groupings over several bars. This is why a lot of Reich’s early music is in 12/8.
A brief coda with a few quintuplets and septuplets, and Mercury quickly and quietly disappears down the plughole.
In Memory of Jane Clouson
This track is a tribute to this 16 year old girl who was brutally murdered in Kidbrooke Lane, Eltham in 1871. Her murderer, Edmund Pook, was acquitted after a contentious trial giving rise to huge anger and massive protests in her community with her murderer and his family being forced to flee the area. The haunting and beautiful statue of her at Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery was made through funds raised by the enraged neighbourhood and was the original inspiration for the piece. The opening is a lament for Jane’s death, the folk-like tune in the middle depicts her youth and innocence and the music ends with a bell-like elegiac coda.
The Lewisham People’s Commission
This was commissioned by the Save the Lewisham Hospital Campaign as the theme music for Stuart Monro’s video recording of the Lewisham People’s Commission of Inquiry which was organised by the SLHC and took place at Lewisham Town Hall on 29th June 2013. It was chaired by the well known human rights lawyer, Michael Mansfield QC. The Enquiry heard evidence by patients, leading Lewisham Hospital Consultants and local GPs against the government plans to downgrade Lewisham Hospital.
Being the most reactive element of all – it even attacks glass – Fluorine seems to demand an extremely violent piece, full of giant clustery chords, and savage rhythms, partly inspired by the piano mu- sic of those early American experimental pioneers Antheil and Ornstein, who by the way lived to the age of 107. A central section was more inspired by those 70s cop car chase movie soundtracks, with their deep stabbed-out piano bass notes with spikey higher note accompaniments.
Creekside is a street in Deptford and the piece was inspired by this lively and historic South East London area. I had in my mind the picture of a young local going for a stroll up Creekside pondering over his/her life and loves…
A cycle of sections in 7/8, 3/4, 5/8 and 4/4 repeats itself throughout the piece. Although both players are in the same meter, they are often playing in different rhythmic groups, e.g. in 7/8 one player might play in 3-2-2, while the other in 2-2-3, giving interlocking and overlapping patterns.
Notes by Hugh Shrapnel and John Lewis.