Music for the Hunt Museum

From 2011 to 2013 I collaborated with CoMA Limerick, the ensemble in residence at The Hunt Museum (Limerick, Ireland), to present concerts featuring new music compositions inspired by their art collection. My composition, Two Images of Roderic O’Conor, was commissioned and first performed during this time.

The Inspiration:

The music ties together two very different paintings by Roderic O’Conor in the collection of The Hunt Museum.

  • The first image, a dully-coloured  old Breton woman falling asleep in a chair, incorporates scales and rhythms from traditional Breton folk music.
  • The contrasting image (fauvism) is of a wildly-coloured tree, depicted in my music with harmonic colours from French classical music of Roderic’s era.

I wanted to tap into the most naturally-occurring intervals in nature and to create a link with the wild colours that would come later in the music…


Press Play:

The Story in the Music

The music begins with a flute melody based on the naturally occurring notes of the overtone series. A piano sparsely accompanies the melody with chords voiced in fifths. I chose these unusual building blocks because I wanted to tap into the most naturally-occurring intervals in nature and to create a contact with the wild colours that would come later in the music.

After the flute, a clarinet and oboe add further definition to the melody while still keeping the harmonies undefined. They are like random thoughts lightly unravelling just before falling asleep. Strings and percussion begin to add layers of complexity as our “old Breton woman falling asleep” begins to dream.

I chose to represent the second painting, that of “a wildly-coloured tree”,  as the Breton woman’s dream. Starting at the 2:40 minute mark, a four-bar rhythmic pattern (6/8 5/8 6/8 6/8)  based on a Breton folk dance rhythm drives the music until the end. The flute, clarinet and oboe are no longer unravelling thoughts at the beginning of a sleep. They are now the new threads of brightly-coloured forest dreamscape. I told the musicians to imagine centaurs and other similar creatures drinking wine from leather flasks and a wooden barrel. The end of the piece slows down and returns to the original tempo as the Breton woman ceases to dream. The final note is the moment before she awakens refreshed from her mid-day sleep.

A Thanks to the Organiser

I have to give a big thanks to composer Fiona Linnane, whom did the majority of the organisation during our residency. Fiona is one of those rare musicians that has a strong understanding of both the big picture and the fine details. (Most musicians focus on one and complete ignore the other). I learned a lot by watching Fiona develop an artistic vision and then co-ordinate the fine details into manageable steps (while also managing to remain a great composer and pianist).