home ::
the heavens ::
the waves ::
teaching ::
contact ::

Initial ideas for the piece were born through a literal self-immersion in the phenomena, swimming in the waves of Tea Gardens in New South Wales where Martin’s grandmother lives, and improvising at the piano, experimenting with sonorities for hours. Never having written for the piano before, Martin encountered pianist Michael Kieran Harvey’s request for a piece, stemming from 1994 and responded to finally in 1997, as a real challenge. The fact of equal-temperament was a particular restriction, not so much of ‘choice’ but in the sense of an intonational frigity antithetical to the fluid character of the tonal interactions Martin was seeking. Undaunted, Martin overcame the fixity of piano tones, as well as what he perceived as the burden of traditional piano writing, with the invention of a new, subtly virtuosic texture. The oceanic quality of duration without stasis is discovered in dynamically and rhythmically irrational, vibrating repeated-notes, which form pristinely whole long-tones, arching, caving and melting through each other like waves. Harmonically, the more dynamic relations of white-note, seven-fold modality are juxtaposed in clusters with the simplicity of black-note pentatonicism, suspending the feeling of gravity.

The second part of the piece is an hommage to the Second Viennese Dreigestirn, delving more deeply into a chromatic tonality reminiscent of the expressionist style of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. Reflected is Martin’s obsession at the time of composing with Schoenberg’s Fuenf Klavierstuecke, Op.23, a historically groundbreaking work for its variety in texture and articulation, and for the complexity and compactness of its far-reaching tonal and rhythmic relationships. Here The Waves turns, as it were, away from emulation of nature into an exploration of inner human fantasy, although the tension of their connection is sustained as the music grows toward wavelike culmination. Yet this wave deviates from the natural self-affirmation of pounding itself into gravity – as this music proceeds it is ‘almost as though the weight of history and and tonality, chromaticism, were too heavy. The piano explores new gestures and textures until it literally explodes, breaks free in an ectasy of what Michael Harvey dubbed the ‘’metamusic’’.’ (M.M.) This is music which scarcely becomes sound, but is pure, wild and frenetic waving without water – the inspired movement of the pianist’s hands in the pneuma. The keys are struck but do not sound, as though the essence of the instrument were lifted from its material frame.

Then – darkness. Not evil darkness, not fearful darkness, nor the darkness of oblivion, but the darkness in the beginning. Before light separated itself from the primordial nest to fly through the wide heavens! – A dark burning, whose firegleams slumber in the deep roar of the flame, invisible – then appear, delicate and triumphant in the crystalline horizon, risen like a gong through deep-troughing piano harmonies.

As always in Martin Mackerras’s music, the evocation of timelessness holds sway. The ocean’s forgotten depths and her shimmering, hopeful horizon are the dimensions of the human soul in its inner eternity, rising and sinking incessantly, the perpetual undulations resolving to the stillness of pure tone, as though the soul were a vibrating string... as though the soul were a lyre... The piano strives to become its entelechy, the lyre of waves. In the beginning was the ocean.

Danaë Killian, January 5th, 2005
Danaë Killian is a pianist and writer living in Melbourne

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