Neanderthal Ballads

for piano

Richard Barnard

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for piano

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Composer Richard Barnard
Year of Composition 2021
Duration ca.15'
Instrumentation Piano
Categories (all composers) ,
Catalogue ID ce-rb5nb1


I. Hand spirits
II. Child’s game
III. Hearth communion
IV. The path through the forest to the edge of the sea
V. Feathered dance
VI. What they dreamed of when they dreamed of us

This is a set of pieces for piano inspired by descriptions and discoveries of Neanderthal culture. It was commissioned by and written for Clare Hammond with support from the John S Cohen Foundation, Hinrichsen Foundation and RVW Trust.

Hand Spirits is a musical expression of the hand stencil images in ancient cave art that Neanderthals may have seen or even made themselves; A five-note ‘hand-print’ motif is surrounded and decorated by colour. Young Neanderthals play an energetic game in the second piece and Hearth Communion depicts a scene in William Golding’s novel The Inheritors in which a small family of Neanderthals are gathered around a fire in closely shared thought. The path through the forest to the edge of the sea traces a familiar route for Golding’s group who encounter Homo sapiens arriving by water. Feathered Dance imagines a ritual and the early emergence of spirituality and religion.

The first identified Neanderthal bones were discovered in the Neander Valley in 1856. Nearby, Robert Schumann had died a few days earlier. The final piece is a meditation on the disappearance, resurrection and lasting presence of the Neanderthals; in the bones left in the ground and the DNA in our bodies. The end is a reference to the final disappearing chord note-by-note in Schumann’s Papillons Op.2.