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Anthony Ritchie: Revelation...Embedded audio
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What happens to us after we die? This fundamental question has haunted human imagination for thousands of years. Many recorded accounts of 'near-death' experiences from all over the world provide evidence that human consciousness remains active in the time immediately following death. These independent accounts describe similar events: the person (or 'spirit') floating above their dead body, the appearance of a great light, being told to go back, and so on.
In 1959, Gina Baxter-Leipolot underwent an emergency operation, was in a coma for three days, and was not expected to recover. During this time she had a 'near-death' experience in which she was drifting above a Mediterranean coastline. She heard music, such as the "velvet sound of violins, underbroken by a sound like mandolins" and "a humming sound, building up in force like thunder". Gina remembered the music after she recovered from the coma and twelve years later she wrote the music down in a basic form, with the help of a retired music examiner, John Chew. She called the music 'Revelations'.
Having been stirred by Gina's story and other 'near-death' accounts, I decided to base my orchestral piece loosely on 'Revelations'. Gina's music only appears in the coda of the piece, played on celesta and harp. It is fragmented and interspersed between large orchestral gestures that depict shafts of light.
Revelations begins with human suffering, symbolised by an anguished chromatic motif on the violins. This is joined by ascending brass chords counterpointed against descending wind chords, as the 'spirit' floats out of the body. With the entry of the harp the music becomes ethereal, and the flute plays a sinuous, floating melody. A sinister idea is heard on low clarinets, based on the ascending chords. Following development of these ideas it is the piccolo's turn to play above the harp, as the 'spirit' floats even higher over the sea (symbolised by a static chord, C-D-E). The music gathers in intensity and at the stroke of a log drum the strings play a fast and dynamic fugato. This section is turbulent and spiralling, and uses elements from the slow section: the piccolo theme, the low clarinet idea, acsending and descending chords, and thick 'cluster' chords. Resolution is only found at the start of the coda, where the strings play the static chord C-D-E, and the brass and winds play joyful versions of earlier motifs. Gina's music then appears, and the piece is rounded off by a blaze of light. To quote Gina: "Don't be afraid of death."
Commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
To Mrs. Gina Baxter-Leipolot
22 May 1998: Premiered by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Eberle at the Christchurch Town Hall, in Christchurch
23 May 1998: Performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Eberle in Christchurch
Featuring: Radio New Zealand Concert
Recorded at Wellington Town Hall, May 2010, by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Tecwyn Evans