for 24 voices (amplified) and 24 instruments

Vic Hoyland

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for 24 voices (amplified) and 24 instruments

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Composer Vic Hoyland
Year of Composition 2014
Duration ca.60'
ISMN 9790570682157
Forces 6v-sop, 6v-alto, 6v-tenor, 6v-bass, 2fl/picc/afl, cl/eflat.cl, cl/bcl, 2tpt, 2tbn, 4perc, hp, pf, strings (
Categories (all composers)
Catalogue ID ce-vh1w1


I’m approaching a grand old 70. For 21 years I roamed the Mediterranean – by boat and plane – and for 11 of those years I owned a flat in Palermo, Sicily.

I visited all the surrounding islands of Sicily and sometimes stayed on Alicudi, where a long time, Italian friend owned a holiday home, halfway up the volcano.

It is impossible not to sense the living presence of ancient times on such an island (Sicily and all its surrounding islands) and to live with it (not in it). Prehistoric dwellings intact can still be visited. There is a bust of Homer carved into the volcanic rock on Alicudi; he is looking out to sea.

I’m now retired and back home in North Yorkshire. Two things coalesced: researching my family history after my mother died (only on my mother’s side, my biological father remains unknown, though it was thought to be my mother’s cousin, an air pilot, shot down over the Baltic towards the end of WWII). Half my mother’s line is Scottish (Davidson/Oliver) from Islay and Tarbolton, Ayrshire. These clan names reach way back to Vikings from Orkney, then Denmark, then to some who believed they, in turn, reached back to Troy.

I had read Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean in the Ancient World. I believe he wrote it c. 1969, but it was not published until after his death, in 1998. Plenty has been written since, but this small book, on a huge topic, tells a thrilling story. He comes down pretty firmly, for a sceptical historian, that Troy did exist in the Bronze Age and that Homer’s telling, in the Iliad, is remembered history transformed into a poem.

He shows that Vikings and the Middle East did have trading contact and that amber was found at the Bronze‐age site, at Isarlik. Amber, at that time, came only from the Baltic region, near Rus.

So from the vantage point of Alicudi I could dream up a 4,000‐year connection and possible routes for a Trojan diaspora – some play, text fragments suggest attempts to flee, not just that made by Aeneas and his band. One gives a failed attempt via Thrace.

I dreamed up a river run via the Black Sea, up the vast Dnieper, then the Volga. There may well have been other routes.

So I conceived a whole sailing route from Troy, via Kiev, to the Baltic, to Denmark, to Orkney, to the west coast of Scotland, even to Dublin (Olivers may have been originally Celtic Irish).

WULF begins with the naming of the sea nymphs, who mourn and try to comfort Achilleus, distraught at the death of his comrade Patroclus.

In the end my employment of text from the Iliad uses only these female names and the names of the males who represent the dead of the Trojan War. Oh, and the idea of Hektor at his death being horse‐dragged by Achilleus, backwards, around the citadel, round and round three times.

I’ve drawn on the six or seven battle incidents, told with such vividness in the Njal Saga; Arras 1917, where we almost all in Europe lost family members; disquiet, as expressed in Claudel’s Partage de Midi (Break at the Centre), first conceived about 1901 but not performed until 1948, famously directed by Jean Louis Barrault; and Wulf, the Anglo‐Saxon poem in which a man and his pregnant wife are separated by war.

I end up on the west coast of Scotland, at Lewis with Jane Finlayson singing her own Fhir a’ Bhata, c. 1775. She is looking out to sea, waiting for the boatman who never returns.

From the Iliad I have drawn structural ideas. His 24 chapters give me 24 instrumentalists and 24 voices, equally divided by male and female singers. The powerful 5‐6‐7 beat patterns of his sea rhythms remind me of the crashing waves at Whitby, Sands End side. I have limited myself to employing just two opposing rhythmic patterns and their retrogrades, despite the fact that this is my most substantial work, to‐date.

The ensemble is set out mirror symmetrical, and there is calling from side to side, antiphon‐like.

I’ve used amplification of the voices to emphasise the spatial aspect, to move the vocal sound around the performance space and to make spoken text readily audible. Oh, and to add atmosphere.

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