Local Composer James Ledger was awarded the Work of the Year: Orchestral at the 2014 Art Music Awards for his violin concerto ‘Golden Years’. The work was commissioned and premiered by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in 2013, with Otto Tausk conducting and Margaret Blades as soloist. Golden Years won the judges over with its inventive structure, instrumental colours and Ledger’s impressive writing for orchestra as well as for solo violin.
Whilst there is nothing new about a composer taking the music of another and absorbing it into their own world, I have often struggled with the idea: At what point are you stealing and at what point are you borrowing?
Two earlier works of mine have taken musical artefacts from the past and integrated them into my music. One of those, The Madness and Death of King Ludwig, took a couple of elements from Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungs. Here, his music exerts itself and causes cracks in my own before making its way fully to the surface in a more or less literal rendition. In a more recent orchestral piece, Two Memorials, the music of Anton Webern and John Lennon live under the same roof. In this case however, there was no literal absorption of either composer – only stylised references.
Golden Years, a concerto for violin and orchestra, for the most part, follows this tradition. And rather than there be only one or two references, the work is littered with music that I had listened to when I was younger. So the work is a kind of giant melting pot of musical ingredients. With one exception, all of the musical ‘borrowings’ are stylised, not literal. That work is Rameau’s Gavotte and Six Doubles (or variations). I had spent many an afternoon as a teenager playing what bits I could on my trusty Roland synthesizer on the “harpsichord” setting. In this concerto, it appears near the beginning and again at the end of the second movement, as a strange little baroque-sounding duo for violin and celesta.
The first movement is built around a ‘blues’ scale. The soloist plays a long-spanning melody that seems to be searching for a home. A home it doesn’t find until the end of the movement – a gospel-inspired chord progression that seemed to fit the melody perfectly. The final third movement is a fast, breathless moto perpetuo. Here the extra-musical sources lay firmly in 80’s pop. I played in several rock bands during this decade and one of those bands covered Top-40 hits. I have taken some chord progressions and riffs from these band days, sliced and diced them and tossed them into the pot.