MASADA FOR STRING QUARTET AND BASSOON
The piece is in one movement. The role of the bassoon is one of a solo “narrator” telling the story of the Hebrew zealots on the mountain MASADA in Israel and the String Quartet forms a more homogenous support and accompaniment to the bassoon –like a concertino for bassoon.
Although much of my compositional oeuvre is strongly informed by traditional indigenous African music influences, much of my work too is influenced by my Jewish heritage and roots. Masada is one of several pieces in this mould. The style of the music, which is conceived in a textural and tone colour realm, confines itself to certain pitch fields with a moving tonal centre; it locates itself on one textural and quasi-harmonic field then moves on - the musical material is freely multi-tonal,
Since the inspiration for the work was the mountain MASADA at the Dead Sea in Israel, there is a very strong pull towards the Middle Eastern modes that contain the augmented 2nd interval, either in the form of the harmonic minor scale or as an exotic mode built on the scale: E F G# A B C D# E containing 2 augmented 2nd intervals. The Phrygian mode is also referenced.
The inspiration for this work is the mountain, Masada that lies alongside the Dead Sea in Israel. In the year 73 B.C. after the destruction of the Holy Temple and Jerusalem, the children of Israel fled from the Romans and a stronghold was built on the top of the mountain by 960 Israelites. After many years of trying to ascend and conquer this mountain stronghold, the Romans, who had built massive ramparts to climb up, finally managed to get to the top – but they were greeted by dead silence! All 960 zealots had taken their own lives rather than be pillaged, raped and enslaved by the Romans. In the piece, the silence is preceded by an aleatoric section which reflects the screaming chaos before the mass suicide; then nothing – merely silence! Since the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth the spatial dimension with the very high mountain on the side is mirrored in the music by wide instrumental ranges and large interval leaps.
Although the work is not an outwardly programmatic narrative, it does reflect the horror of the moment of an “empty victory”. The music uses as its central thematic idea the falling harmonic minor scale and a ‘Middle Eastern’ dialogue ensues in the form of a responsorial style between the bassoon and the quartet. The bassoon has an expressive, declamatory and melodic role while the quartet provides a rhythmic and harmonic function. It is a very intense work with several different but related thematic ideas, held together by recurring textures and motives.