MP3 Derek Strahan - Atlantis Variations
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"ATLANTIS VARIATIONS" FOR SOLO PIANO by Derek Strahan
Derek Strahan, virtual piano
COMPOSERâS NOTES: In his workâ Australian Piano Music of the Twentieth Centuryâ
(published Praeger 2005) (page 144) Professor Larry Sitsky of the Australian National
University School of Music, has kindly intimated that, in his opinion, any book on Australian
piano music, to be considered complete, should include a mention of Derek Strahan and his
Atlantis Variations (1992) for solo piano. Professor Sitsky observes in this work some
âconnection to the world of Messiaenâ. He also refers to my âeclecticâ style of writing,
and, quite rightly, questions my reliance on a very prescriptive program in writing a
piece intended for concert performance. In âreserving judgement â he also kindly adds
that he âwould love to hear the work as a whole from some enterprising pianistâ As
would I! I have endeavoured to engage some of the issues Sitsky raises in the text that
immediately follows. I do thank him most sincerely for including consideration of this
work in his extensive survey of Australian piano music.
THE PROGRAM: It is intended that this piece can stand alone as a concert piece
independently of its programmatic connection, since it was written to explore, by purely
musical means, what possibilities are inherent in the elemental motifs and themes I have
created and have chosen to work with. Thus all themes are subjected to variational
development. The âSunâ theme is explored in 3 variations; âEarthâ theme in 5, and the
Maya I, Maya II & Calypso themes (which are contrapuntally compatible) are explored in
6 variations. Music of the 19th century is vibrant with programmatic works, of which the
Symphonic Poems (or Tone Poems) of Ferencz Liszt were early examples, followed later
by those of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius and Richard Strauss, to
name but five ardent practitioners. These greatly influenced the work of composers in
the 20th century writing for film and theatre, and perhaps especially for ballet. For
those interested in the relationship between this music and the âhistoryâ of Atlantis, I
offer the following summary prefaced, however, by this thought: the earth changes
wrought by the geological upheavals that brought to an end the Quaternary Age are a
prime example of climate change. One cannot read any account of the planetary
convulsions that accompanied this global event without experiencing feelings of awe
and terror. Such feelings are at the core of this composition, in whatever musical form it
may be deemed to have been written. And, by the way, given adequate time and
funding, I do plan to orchestrate this piece.
NOTE ON PERFORMANCE: The increased technological sophistication of digital sound
banks available to create virtual performance can be used in conjunction with music
software programs to simulate live performance, though it should not be taken to assume
that I regard virtual performance as an adequate substitute for the artistry of an actual
performance! In preparing a score on music software for virtual performance it becomes
clear that the mathematical aspects of music must be observed to an even greater degree
than in previous eras of music composition when descriptions of intent in words were often
deemed sufficient to give performers adequate indication of a composerâs intention.
Computers influence the way we undertake tasks, and can also give rise to new possibilities,
including in music. Consequently, in notating music, attention must be given and total
accuracy must be applied to every kind of nuance in order to convey something approaching
the effect of live performance, to wit: frequent dynamic contrast, frequent changes of tempi
and time signature, and, particular to this score, frequent use of mathematically enabled
cross rhythms. The most chaoticâsounding passages in this work are the most metrically
I offer this work on CD and for digital download in this virtual mode of performance in the
hope that listeners and prospective pianists may find in it some value. I fully appreciate that
radio presenters will have reservations in presenting it on air, since, naturally, the public
wishes to admire the work of human virtuosi in recordings! But â may I suggest? â there may
be passages which listeners might enjoy hearing in the context of reference to how
performance was achieved. The general public, in fact, hears a great deal of âcomputerisedâ
music in film and on TV/Cable without being aware of how it has been generated. Digital
sampling, aleatoric notation to include âuncertaintyâ, synthesized sounds, and other novel
and random elements have already intruded in concerts works. The mechanised one man
band has come a long way since the organ grinder with attendant monkey was paid âfor his
silence not his soundsâ, and since Beethovenâs friend Johann Malzel invented the
Panharmonicon in 1800 (in essence a monstrous mechanical organ) for which Beethoven
wrote the first version of his notorious program work âWellingtonâs Victoryâ (Op. 91); but
mechanised performance in one form or another is part of our industrial society as is
reproduction of live performance. Computers have arrived and, with their bag of conjurorâs
tricks, are here to stay!
HISTORICAL BASIS FOR THE PROGRAM: Most Mayan literature was destroyed in
a series of gigantic auto da fe in Mexico lit by jealous Spanish priests following in the
footsteps of the Conquistadores. (Most Aztec literature suffered a similar fate).
Fortunately a key to deciphering part of Mayan sign language survived in the work of the
second archbishop of Yucatan, Diego de Landa, who, despite encouraging the book
burning, was thoughtful enough to leave a record of the symbols which the Mayans used
to denote their numbers, days and months. This sign language was found in the
countless reliefs that cover every temple, stair column and frieze in the great Mayan
monuments of Yucatan (only a fraction of which have as yet been excavated). Thanks to
de Landa's key it was discovered that the Mayan aesthetic had a mathematical basis;
that every piece of Mayan construction was part of a great calendar in stone, which
contains observations of the movement of heavenly bodies over a vast period of time:
The Mayan calendar reveals a record of 21 "long counts" of the Mayan "eon", known as
"baktanâ, beginning on a day which has been identified in the Gregorian calendar as June 5th,
8498 B.C. On this day there was a conjunction of the Earth, the Moon and Venus. This date
also approximates to the time set for a major world geological event â the transition from the
Quaternary to the (present) Quinternary Age. It also corresponds to the approximate time
given by Plato for the destruction of Atlantis. Human cultures tend to begin their calendars
on the date of a seminal event. For the Romans, Day One was the foundation of their capital
city. For Christians, the birth of Christ. For Moslems, Mohamedâs flight from Mecca to
Medina. Is it possible that the beginning of the Mayan calendar dates from the destruction of
their parent civilisation? A day of global trauma, whose memory is preserved in Mayan
records, in stone, and in three books which alone have survived the zealous vandalism of
Physicist, engineer, inventor, Otto Heinrich Muck offers the thesis that the triple conjunction
of June 5th 8498 B.C. caused an asteroid of the Adonis Group to be diverted from its orbit
shortly after reaching its perihelion (closest point to the sun). The asteroid, estimated at 10
km in diameter, was deflected from its accustomed orbit by the combined gravitational fields
of Venus, the Moon and Earth. It approached the midâAtlantic area from the West. Blazing
more brightly than the sun as it entered Earth's atmosphere, it broke in two as it passed over
North America. Its brittle crust shattered into lethal fragments gouging a trench of
destruction over what is now Carolina. The two portions of its core plunged into what is now
the Gulf of Mexico, and pierced the earth's crust. Two abyssal holes in the gulf are the scars
of this cataclysmic event. Mountainous tidal waves surged from the place of impact in all
directions, causing widespread inundation in coastal areas. The fracture zone known as the
Atlantic Rift was severed and torn apart. Redâhot magma was released into the ocean along
the rift to each end of the Atlantic. Both the east coast of America and the west coast of Africa
sank, as did the platform on which stood Atlantis, leaving only mountainous peaks visible
above the sea (now the Azores). Volcanic debris from worldwide eruptions obscured the sun for centuries creating a
"shadow of death". Eventually the ice caps retreated, and sea levels worldwide rose, causing
further inundations, There was vast loss of life on a global scale, and many species became
extinct, including, spectacularly, the great mammoths, whose carcases, still snap frozen, have
been emerging intact from the Siberian tundra for centuries. (Their meat, still edible, is fed
to huskies and, on one memorable occasion was served to scientists at a banquet in
Moscow!) As a result of these planetary upheavals (which might also include a shifting of the
North Pole from Hudson Bay in Canada to its present position), the earth moved from the
Quaternary to the Quinternary Age, in which we now live. We are survivors of survivors.
"ATLANTIS VARIATIONS" adopts this chronology as the basis for a musical narrative in
which themes are presented and developed which are intended for use in a proposed cycle
of operas based on the topic of Atlantis. The work has 13 movements, a reference to the
preference of Mayan astronomers for the prime number 13. (A "baktun" is 13 counts of
144,000 days.) The 13 movements are spread over 3 parts.
PART ONE: 1st movement: "THE SUN" (Track 1) The furnace of the sun is embodied in a chain
of polytonal chords, which are the basis for a set of 3 variations which seek to portray various
solar activities: continuous nuclear fission; the corona; solar flares.
2nd Movement: "THE ASTEROID" (Track 2) The asteroid is a rogue child of unpredictable
character, of changeable habits, easily swayed from its usual path. A double invertible theme is
introduced, in the form of a fugue.
3rd Movement: "ORBITS" (Track 3) Asteroids of the Adonis Group follow individual,
extremely eccentric, elongated, elliptical orbits, whose aphelion positions are beyond the
orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, and whose perihelion positions bring them very close to the sun,
inside the orbits of Mars, Earth and Venus. Using musical intervals as a metaphor for
celestial distance the shape of an elliptical orbit is traced by a pattern notes of unequal
intervals encompassing the entire range of the keyboard. This orbit of the rogue asteroid is
heard in counterpoint to the circular orbit of planets (depicted by patterns of notes of equal
4th Movement: "VENUS" (Track 4) The turbulent and overheated nature of Venus is
reflected in a motif of like character.
5th Movement: "MOON" (Track 5) Now within the realm (or orbital attraction) of Earth, the
Moon is perceived anthropomorphically, as a Goddess. Whatever she was called, in
Atlantean times, she was probably the original archetype of Artemis of the Greeks, who was
also the Roman Diana, the Huntress, Queen of the Wood. The musical cipher is a primal
hunting call, in twoâpart harmony, based on the notes of the natural horn.
6th Movement: "EARTH" (Track 6) Our home planet is depicted by a yearning melody, in
parallel thirds forming harmonies of the major 7th and 9th against the tonic, moving in
sequence through various related keys. The melody is developed in five contrasting
7th Movement: "ATLANTIS" (Track 7) This section employs leitmotifs and passages already
introduced in an earlier work âAtlantisâ for Flute/Alto Flute & Piano, (1990). A portrait of the
Atlantean landmass and empire is woven from leitmotifs for "Poseidon", the founder (or
coloniser?), "Cleito", his consort; "Atlas", first of their ten pairs of twin sons; and also from
shorter motifs denoting seismic instability: "Trident", "Rift". A disjunctive passage denoting a
âFracture in SpaceâTimeâ (Track 8) leads to an extended theme evoking âThe Golden Age", a
summation of Atlantis at its height.
PART TWO: 8th Movement: "FEMALE MAGIC: (Track 9. Maya Variations/Track 10. Maya
Compound Variations/Track 11. Calypsoâs Dance) Two new leitmotifs are introduced embodying
the feminine principal: "Maya", a universal deity common to Greek ("Maia"), Indian and Amerindian
myth (a double invertible theme Maya I and Maya II); and "Calypso", in mythology a sea nymph,
here a rebel figure, symbolising female revolt against patriarchy, and the founding of an independent
island realm. The existence of many more islands in the Atlantic in ancient times is indicated on the
so-called portolan maps which circulated secretly amongst mariners for centuries, and which were
condemned as heretical by the Church. Surviving portolan maps dating from the 14th century are
thought to have been copies of much older maps. (Columbus is thought to have had one.) Tradition
ascribes the origin of magical practises to Atlantis. They are associated with female power. Several
dances are heard, evocative of magical rites. Musical ideas emerged from the following pathology:
"Alluring, unnerving: that which understands logic and implies one premise but acts on another; that
which seduces by promises of the expected, but retains power by delivering the unexpected; that
which appears familiar, but remains elusiveâ¦ â
9th Movement: "PATRIARCHY". (Track 12. Male Angst/Track 13. Male Fervour)
The Atlantis described by Plato is patrilineal, and ceremonies conducted at the magnificent
temple of Poseidon were dominated by male priests and the successive kings of Atlantis. The
patriarchal system that developed must have displaced the kind of earlier matriarchal society
which, according to Robert Graves, prevailed in antiquity. One is left with the impression that,
in its later stages, Atlantis, under male influence, became an aggressive, colonising power.
According to Plato, at the time of its destruction it was waging war against a coalition of
European nations lead by preâHellenic Greeks. This short section embodies various musical
themes, processional, forceful, intense, which arose from the following pathology: "Lawmaker,
lawbreaker, moral angst, phallic imperative, existential rage, scientific curiosity, religious
fervour.â Two extended melodies are heard: the first is strenuous, the second is aggressive and
leads to an energetic climax. Antique themes representing Poseidon and Atlas also figure
prominently in the opening and at the close.
PART THREE: 10th Movement: "TRIPLE CONJUNCTION" (Track 14) The motifs of Venus,
Moon and Earth are reprised, and then combine in triple counterpoint, a musical metaphor
denoting the three bodies moving into triple conjunction. This section closes with a variant reprise
of music for âThe Golden Ageâ (which is about to end).
11th Movement: "FIREâIMPACTâDELUGE" (Track 15) In the short space of two minutes
actualâtime, the asteroid is drawn into Earth's atmosphere, blazes more brightly than the
sun, shatters in a terrifying concussion which reverberates across continents. Its debris
scourges the earth with fire. It explodes into two monstrous boulders, kilometres wide. The
boulders plunge into the ocean, creating huge tidal waves that deluge the surrounded
landmasses. The earth is split asunder
12th Movement: "PROCLAMATION" (Track 16)
A declamatory theme announces the end of an age.
13th Movement: "THE END OF AN AGE" (Track 17) Redâhot magma pours from the severed
rift in the ocean bed. The earth tilts on its axis. The poles move. The earth's crust is in
upheaval. The global cataclysm causes the great parent civilisation, Atlantis, to sink into the
sea. The planet experiences worldwide changes, which engulf the human race in two
thousand years of chaos and darkness. We are survivors of survivors. Atlantis is submerged.
Seagulls wheel, as some say they do to this day, crying over the turbulent surface of the sea
where the island was once located. We then hear Cleitoâs Lament leading to an Epilogue.
TOWARD THE OPERAS
The project: A cycle of 4 operas about high civilisation before the Flood â according to
Plato, emanating from an island empire called âAtlantisâ.
Progress report, June 2004:
âEden In Atlantisâ: 25âminute Scena for soprano, flute & piano (1996); complete opera libretto
(2002); spoken word version on CD âPast Life recallâ (2003).
âPoseidon In Atlantisâ: 19âminute work
(âAtlantisâ) for flute & piano (1990):
plot outline, libretto for Cleitoâs narrative (1996).
âCalypso In Exileâ: plot outline, libretto for Calypsoâs narrative (1996), set to music, 25â minute Scena for soprano and wind
âThe Last Days Of Atlantisâ: plot outline, (1996); sketch for final cataclysm in Pt.3 of âAtlantis Variationsâ for solo piano (1992)
Extensive development of musical themes for all proposed operas undertaken in âAtlantis Variationsâ for solo piano (1992), a 50âminute work in 3 parts.
DEREK STRAHAN â BA CANTAB
Derek Strahan was born in Penang, Malaysia on May 28th 1935, and spent his early
childhood in colonial Malaya. He was evacuated with his mother and sister to Perth, W.A,
when Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942. In 1946 the Strahans settled in
Northern Ireland and Derek completed his schooling in Belfast. He obtained a
scholarship to study at Cambridge University, where he graduated in 1954 with a BA
Cantab (Modern Languages) (French and Spanish). At university, he maintained a
commitment to music and also developed an interest in theatre and cinema, acting in a
number of university productions. From 1954 to 1960 he worked in London as relief
teacher, actor, singerâsongwriter and assistant film director making commercials.
In 1961 he returned to Australia and settled in Sydney, where he combined composing film and
concert music with work as film director, scriptwriter, actor, singer/songwriter, lecturer and,
currently, script assessor for the Australian Writersâ Guild. His compositions include music for
over 30 film documentaries, 3 feature films, over 30 works of concert music encompassing solo,
ensemble, vocal and orchestral pieces. Much of his film and concert music has been released on
CD, and, since 1982, has been consistently broadcast on national radio. Strahanâs music is
melodic, making use of polyphony and polymetrics, and has attracted performance by a
number of distinguished artists. Derek Strahan is a represented composer with the Australian
Music Centre (AMC): He can also be contacted through the AMC where his music scores, parts
and recordings are merchandised.
Would you like to support the arts? Would a tax deduction help?
Derek Strahan is listed with the Australia Cultural Fund as a bona fide artist. The Australia
Business Arts Foundation (AbaF) has confirmed that it is possible for Derek
Strahan's supporters (in Australia) to make a taxâdeductible donation to AbaF's Australia
Cultural Fund, requesting that AbaF apply it to the Atlantis opera project, and other approved
projects. To find out more about this program and how you could help make new Australian
music go to: http://www.abaf.org.au/giving/acf.html
ROBERT ALLWORTH Grateful thanks to Australian producer Robert Allworth for
earlier releasing this music progressively on a series of Jade CDs.
Producer: Derek Strahan, for Revolve Pty. Ltd. email@example.com
Digital masters: Tracks 1 â 17. New Music Theatre, 2007, Sibelius Music Software
Digital premastering conversion: Steve Smart, Studio 301, Sydney (02) 9698 5888
Manufactured by: mad CDs, Phone: (02) 9572 9669
Cover Art & Typesetting: Louis Cooke (02) 9799 7050
Producer: Derek Strahan, for Revolve Pty. Ltd.
All Revolve & Jade CDs can be acquired online at the US online store CDBaby.
âATLANTIS VARIATIONSâ, REVOLVE RECORDINGS RDS 009
© 1992 Derek Strahan (P) 2010 Revolve Pty. Ltd.
Revolve Pty. Ltd. P.O. Box 422, Cronulla, NSW 2230, Australia
Phone/Fax: 612 8544 0184
in partnership with CDbaby
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