Richard Blackford: Seven Hokusai Miniatures, Five Naidu Songs & Dragon Songs

HOKUSAI MINIATURES The seven prints I chose from Hokusai’s immense output of Ukiyo-e, or “pictures from the floating world”, represent landscapes, seascapes and scenes from Japanese town and country life around the iconic Mount Fuji. Whereas some movements are inspired by a single picture, others are composites of many scenes or visual variations on a theme.

FIVE NAIDU SONGS The poems of Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) cover a wide range of human experience, from love, ecstasy, delight in the natural world, loneliness, acceptance and praise. These five poems form a cycle of one Indian woman’s experience. Her poetry pulsates with her love of Indian landscapes, seasons and flowers, simple joys, devotion and the splendour of Indian festivals. I chose an accompaniment of string quartet and clarinet to extend and enhance the richness of Naidu’s imagery and the passion she evokes.

DRAGON SONGS OF GRANNY CHANG In 1980 I discovered in an old bookshop a book of Chinese childrens’ songs in English translation called Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes. Published in 1900 it includes, as well as the texts in Mandarin and English, I chose fourteen poems to make a cantata for children, accompanied by two pianos with optional percussion, recorder and harp. The cantata is framed by two marches as the children gather for a wedding. Recorded in 1981, the original tape sat on my shelf for years. Now digitally transfers by Nimbus and we were surprised and delighted at how fresh and dynamic the recording still sounds today.

Richard Blackford

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Whether writing for quartet or children's choir, Blackford's take on oriental themes is often engaging. BBC Music Magazine

I first came across composer Richard Blackford relatively recently and had made a point to explore his works further. This work stood out to me partly because of the interesting combination of instruments. The blending of clarinet with string quartet is a well known and effective medium and here Richard doesn't disappoint. The writing for the instruments is well constructed and idiomatic. The inclusion of a mezzo-soprano is like adding the icing to the cake. The vocal range is full and beautiful sits on top of the quintet. The clarinet on occasion acts as a sparing partner with the mezzo-soprano and the two voices blend amazingly well. The publication is well done with clear and concise parts and full score. The quality of the paper is second to none and is certainly at the level expected for professionals and amateurs alike. Well worth exploring and highly recommended. Peter Cigleris clarinettist

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