Reuben Pace

Story Telling ,Theatrical Influences and the use of Text in my Music - Part 2

Last week’s blog, the first one in a series of 4 blogs about the influence of story telling and theatre in my music dealt with those pieces in my repertoire which, although in some way either tell a story or are influenced by the theatrical medium, do not use the text at all, they are purely instrumental music. In this second blog I shall talk about setting words to music with acoustic (traditional means).
Such pieces are Qatt (1999 – soprano and piano) which is a setting of a poem by Anton Buttiġieġ (1912-1983) who was also Malta’s second President of the Republic. In the poem the poet personifies the Never (Qatt in Maltese) as an entity more cruel than Death. The work achieves it’s dramatic effect partly through the use of theatrical voice techniques such as spoken text (as opposed to sung) and also singing on a monotone.
Another work which sets text to music in the same way is the song cycle Farmer’s Tale (2001) which is a set of 4 songs on poems by R.S.Thomas (Wales 1913-2000) and Therese Vella (Malta ). The monotone is again used as in the movement To the Farmer , as well as text declaimed in a spoken manner as well as shouting as in the movement Threnody for the Departed Farmers’ .
A particular Maltese musical form which I am fond of using is the Għana tal-Fatt (literally singing about a fact) mentioned in last week’s blog. Although this style does not use theatrical gestures (except for maybe the bends and glissandi in the voice) it is historically associated with storytelling - in that in the age before the mass media became common place the folk singer used to go from one village to another recounting a real life tale (which usually was somehow exaggerated) by singing it using a repertoire of more or less standardised melodic cells. The music was improvised from these melodic cells, the text was usually precomposed. I have used this Maltese folk music style in City Farming from Farmer’s Tale (2001) ,in ‘Il-Ġrajja ta’ Vitorin’(Victoria’s Lament) (2014) and most lately in ‘Xidew il-Cada’ from the opera Il-Kantilena’.
The Missa Brevis (2010) also sets text to music acoustically but it is different then the previous pieces in that it uses voices only (double choir, solo soprano, solo tenor). The Kyrie was performed in Moscow in 2013. My (to date) only Oratorio , Versus (2015) also uses voices only but since it uses electronic music influenced techniques it will be dealt with in the next blog.