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Original description from the included liner notes by David Hall:
John Antill whose Corroboree
created such a sensation when Eugene Goossens conducted the world premiere of the Suite in Sidney, August 18,1946, was born at Ashfield, New South Wales, in 1904. He showed enormous musical aptitude as a child, and in 1925 went to Sydney to complete his musical studies at the Conservatorium there. Most of his professional career has been associated with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, where he has held a variety of posts including that of Music Editor. While Corroboree
has done most to make Antill's name known beyond the confines of Australia, he also composed a number of symphonic works, a set of Five Australian Songs, an opera The Music Critic, and much film music.
It was as a child that Antill witnessed the Australian aboriginal dance ceremony known as the Corroboree
, and it was the memory of this which in 1936 impelled him to sketch out a ballet with this ritual as its focus. By 1944 the score was completed, and it was in 1946 that the music came to the attention of Eugene Goossens who was searching for an outstanding new Australian premiere to mark his appointment as Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
was first performed as a complete ballet on July 3, 1950, the composer conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with the National Theatre Ballet. Choreography was by Rex Reid and decor by William Constable. Boosey & Hawkes published the complete score in 1953.
The full ballet lasts for about 45 minutes and comprises seven sections summarized as follows in the score flyleaf:
A feature of Australian aboriginal life is the dance ceremony known as the Corroboree. The Aboriginal is a master of mimicry and burlesque, and the Corroboree generally takes the form of realistic imitations of humans or animals. Any current event may furnish the theme from which the "tribal" poets, musicians and actors produce the ceremony ... The performances take place after sundown" in the glow of campfires, creating a most impressive atmosphere ...
- Welcome Ceremony - Witchetty Grub men assisted by members of the Emu Totem.
- Dance to the Evening Star - by the Thippa Thippa and Bell Bird people.
- A Rain Dance - by the Frog Totem assisted by the Fish men.
- The Spirit of the Wind - demonstrated by the Snake Totem.
- Homage to the Rising Sun - Kangaroo Men.
- The Morning Star Dance - by the Hakea Flower Totem.
- Procession of Totems and Closing Fire Ceremony - in which the representatives of the Lace Lizard, Cockatoo, Honey Ant, Wild Cat and Small Fly Totems participate. Much usage of Boomerang, Spear and Fire Stick.
The concert suite recorded here draws on Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 7.
Antill describes the Aboriginal "orchestra" used in an actual Corroboree
as consisting of "Several yam sticks, boomerangs and shields to be struck together or upon the ground. A few "Ilpirra" (hollowed out, white ant eaten branch of a tree into which the performer sings or hums). Several forms of "Trora" or "Wainba" sticks (pronged sticks of various sizes struck together, making noises not unlike crickets and frogs). Sometimes a form of drum, constructed of stretched skin upon a log, or a skin rolled into a tight bundle. In the more "modern" orchestra the Didjeridoo (a large form of Ilpirra, played in much the same way as the present day trumpet) would be employed. The main section would consist of the singers who chant the "story being performed, and clap their hands together or upon the thighs."
"I have endeavoured to preserve," says Antill, "within the confines of our present day orchestra, the spirit of our native race through the medium of their expressive ceremonial dances. A special rhythmic figure being used throughout each of the seven sections, and the melodies woven to suit the situation." ... "A large orchestra is necessary, and as may be expected the emphasis is on rhythm and percussion."
Antill's orchestra is normal enough in the string and wind department; but the percussion division is something else again, consisting of piano, celesta, xylophone, vibraphone, 6 pedal timpani, bass drum, trora sticks, two types of cymbals, large and small gong, triangle, tambourine, snare drum, slap stick ratchet, tom tom, wood block, sleigh bells, castanets, sand blocks, Chinese temple clocks, thunder sheet, and bull roarer.
A special word is in order concerning the bull roarer - also known as the thunder stick. This flat board whirled around the head at the end of a thong produces a fluttering roar, and it has always had a special fearsome significance to primitive peoples, its sound embodying for them perhaps the voice of the gods.
Antill's music could be summed up glibly as an Australian Sacre du Printemps
(Rite of Spring) - except that comparison with actual field recordings of Australian Aboriginal tribal music show that the composer has captured with stunning accuracy the essence of the real thing. He has, in short, created a masterpiece of musician stylization, as well as a fiercely vital theatrical spectacle.
Antill's scenario for the four sections of Corroboree
recorded here runs as follows: "Except for the inevitable smouldering fire, the ballet commences in eerie darkness, which gradually brightens throughout the performance to the first rays of dawn. The presence of a persistent rhythmic figure indicates that something of great importance is about to take place. There is a reiterative figure representing movements by the medicine man who is the central figure amongst the Council of old men. The Didjeridoo is heard. The tribal jester performs. The medicine man perfumes his tricks and directs spectacular smoke signals ... The appearance of the Evening Star creates an excuse, or rather demands attention (as these stars, especially the large ones, are spirits of the departed). A somewhat sedate dance is performed by the Thippa Thippa and Bell Bird people ... The necessity of rain to fill the water holes and make the rivers flow is a matter not to be taken lightly. Hence any ceremony alleged to induce this phenomenon is attended with serious respect. However, the Frog and Fish men's invocations are readily rewarded ... There is the ceremonial raising of totems, followed by a grand procession and revealing of emblems, culminating in characteristic 'Wha Wha' with upraised spears and boomerangs, etc. A sudden stop as the medicine man calls for respected attention, and grants permission for the final frantic rites to commence ... The large torches are ablaze and sway lazily. The air is filled with blazing fragments and thick smoke. The mysterious bull roarer sounds a sinister note. The mass of howling, dancing men grotesquely bedaubed, creates an atmosphere that could only be described as fiendish ... The curtain falls upon a scene of absolute chaos and prostration."
Alberto Ginastera of Argentina (b. 1916, Buenos Aires) has emerged since World War II as the outstanding South American composer of the generation succeeding Villa-Lobos (b. 1881) of Brazil and Chavez (b. 1899) and Revueltas (1899-1940) of Mexico. His music, which comprises well over two-dozen major works, reflects the cosmopolitan sophistication of Argentine city life, as well as the vitality of that nation's pampa folk and Indians. The Variaciones Concertantes
(1953), the Pampeana No. 3
(commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra in 1954), and the String Quartet No.1
(1948) are among the most frequently performed of Ginastera's scores; but it was the Suite from his youthful ballet, Panambi
, which brought Ginastera's name to the attention of a worldwide audience when the late Erich Kleiber conducted its American premiere with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on February 24, 1946. At that time Ginastera was himself in the United States on a Guggenheim fellowship. However, he was no total unknown here; for the American Ballet Caravan had commissioned him back in 1941 to write the dance score Estancia
He was just 20 when he composed the ballet, Panambi
, the story of which is based on a South American Indian legend. Juan Jose Castro conducted the world premiere of the 5-movement orchestral suite recorded here on November 27, 1937 in Buenos Aires. The entire ballet was presented at the Teatro Colon on July 12, 1940.
The five movements of the Panambi
ballet suite vary in style from modern impressionist to sophisticated primitivism—the titles being: 1. Moonlight on the Parana
; 2. Invocation of the Powerful Spirits
; 3. Lament of the Maidens
; 4. Rondo of the Maidens
; 5. Dance of the Warriors
. The primitivistic element is most spectacularly evident in the second movement which is scored for percussion and brass only, and in the Dance of the Warriors
which works up to a tremendous final climax.