A List of Things I Am Going to Steal from Richard Meale

Of late, I have been enjoying a particularly intense romance with the Three Miró Pieces by Richard Meale (1932-2009), one of his late orchestral works from 2002. That this piece is not a regular on Australian orchestral stages is a damning indictment on programming, frankly. It is exquisitely crafted, colourful, exciting, shows off the orchestra and even has movements of various lengths, perfect for ABC Drive! For some reason it strikes me as a possible Australian equivalent for the evergreen 2nd suite from Daphnis et Chloe and should appear on the concert platform at least twice as often.

I have my own history with Richard- he was the composition tutor at the National Music Camp in 2005 when we wrote operatic scenes in a project I somewhat eerily repeated on a much bigger scale last year. I wish I could remember some piece of compositional or music-making wisdom he passed on- it would make a thesis much easier for starters- but I what I remember more is his character and his presence. In one rehearsal, the conductor for the project had a bit of a strop that one composer’s big choral moment wasn’t more like the glorious Verdi comic fugue Tutti nel mondo. This was a view that Richard thought utterly pointless (“but he’s NOT Verdi”) and had no qualms in saying so- springing to the young composer’s defence (it was not me!). Conversely, if a young composer had done something particularly stupid (“you’re trying to be clever but it makes no sense at all”), he had no qualms in saying that either (this was me!). One of my strongest musical memories is watching the video of the opera Voss and the parallel effect of watching it with the composer, and also watching how it affected him. Another Australian masterpiece neglected, incidentally, but let’s not go down the Australian opera rabbit hole or we shall sit and weep, weep, weep.

He also had a very droll anecdote about how when he began writing in a more tonal manner, an esteemed Australian colleague made a mercy dash, flying to Richard’s house to try and stage an intervention. He named the esteemed colleague, however I shall not.

To return to the work that prompted this trip down memory lane, here, in chronological order, is a list of things I plan to steal from Richard in my future compositions:

Dog Barking at Moon

  • The gorgeous, dense and velvety texture of interlocking sixths in the lower strings
  • The fleeting, Redwoodesque fortepiano chords that drop in like a sudden beam and disappear just as quickly over the aforementioned density
  • There are not nearly enough sinuous, slightly malevolent cor anglais solos in my life
  • Use of the bass trombone, an instrument I’m never quite sure what to do with, to underpin woodwind flourishy business, thus making it thicker and less brittle

Cat’s Dancing Lesson (Dutch Interior II)

  • Scherzo. Does anyone still write orchestral scherzi? They should come back in a big way
  • More use of the trombones as pseudo-woodwinds to underpin little flourishes, very nice
  • Stellar use of percussion throughout this movement, by the way- particularly as a fan of the tambourine

The Nightingale’s Song at Midnight and the Morning Rain

  • Lovely effect right up top- pingy percussion but supported by tuba and muted violins- the whole murky dreaminess, with a vaguely threatening slow melody moving first through muted horns is a delight
  • Such good harp wash in the background!
  • Whatever those scales in the winds are, I must have them
  • Oh hai here’s that horn melody again but with high, tremolo violins in pseudo-canon- aieee, very scary!
  • Tremendous trumpet trio when the shit starts to go down (in a brilliantly catchy little rhythm which Meale uses just enough times)- simple but highly effective effect of bells down with a sudden flash of bells up
  • The boss trombones taking over the melody with bongos, congas and tom-toms doing their nut like some kind of fabulous 1960s spy caper soundtrack
  • The way the spooky theme keeps going under all the carefully constructed chaos in only the second violins- which means it peeks through all the noise beautifully, particularly when chirpy upper winds have their turn with the catchy rhythm
  • After a honky-tonky windband effect, strings take a rhythmically unison driving passage that is drawn from some of the horn background earlier- excellent idea as it kicks in just when the catchy rhythm was starting to tire
  • The unashamedly big finish

So, would you like to listen to the 3 Miró Pieces? HAHAHA LOL YOU CANNOT. Remarkably, this masterpiece has never been commercially recorded. If you are a member of the Australian Music Centre you can borrow a super-special sacred archival CD but otherwise you are out of luck.