In this work the composer attempts to capture the spirit of a multi-faceted South African society with all its cultural diversity. In order to achieve this collage in the music, Tempus Fugit comprises complex layerings of African music elements together with Western timbres and orchestrations. In the work there are musical gestures symbolising sameness and contrast, unity and diversity.
In our ‘rainbow’ society the contrasts and changes are reflected in the music by metrical changes, change of pace and constant timbral metamorphoses by alternating instrumental groupings. Its multi-dimensional nature is interpreted musically by the use of multi-tonalities where the tonal focus constantly shifts. The piece is energized by driving and sometimes relentless rhythmic patterns. The percussion section is very large and includes many drums, roto toms, shakers, bells and tuned percussion like Xylophone, marimba etc.
Three contrasting sections flow into one another without a break.
Tempus Fugit opens with a marimba introduction with a simple 4-note statement from which most of the material of the piece is derived, i.e. a descending major triad in 3rds followed by a sudden upward semitone, which somehow ‘spoils’ the equilibrium of the chord. This is immediately followed by a statement of the theme (inverted) in the flutes and violins, supported by the basses which occasionally interject with the rising semitone ‘feature’.
In this opening the horizontal themes are synchronized at various unisons and octaves between instruments to symbolize common societal goals and unity, yet octave displacements allow for cultural differences. Large melodic leaping gestures are gradually replaced by a smoother melodic texture. Additive techniques are used and each repetition takes the theme a little further. Here the tonal centre is ‘A’, symbolically the tuning note of the orchestra, and forms the nucleus of the work.
The texture is poly-rhythmic with melodic layerings of 4 pulses against 6, resulting in phase shifting, cross rhythms and overlapping phrases. A final 4-note fanfare brings this section to a close but retains a marimba tremolando on middle C, (representing the physical world), which is a link to the second section.
“Nox et solitude plenae sunt diabolo” (Night and quietness bring many demons) sub-titles the second ‘spiritual’ section. This is the African bush at night. Out of the darkness emerge terrifying creatures and screeches which burst through the calm background texture, then recede again. Various instruments emerge highlighting these sudden flashes. This reflects life as it is in our surreal imagination – fear of the unknown! Instruments are used in extreme registers to increase tension and penetrate new levels of consciousness. The seemingly haphazard outbursts become united in a central synchronized climax, and then disintegrate again until the blurred texture clears harmonically to octaves on ‘E’.
This ‘E’ forms a link to the 3rd section which opens with a ‘chirping’, mechanical, repetitive ‘E’. It symbolizes the clocklike mechanized precision of a world dominated by technology – a kind of moto perpetuo which the renowned composer Ligeti would have called “a granulated continuum”, i.e. quick repetitions of the same note. The trumpets announce a descending 7-note theme against this repetitive texture. It is a poly-rhythmic section with syncopations, ending with frenetic, irregular groups of 2s and 3s. The hypnotic, repetitive texture is given tone colour through changing timbres in the orchestration.
Renowned musicologist Dr Mary Rörich wrote the following about the work: “Its philosophical essence, as the title Tempus Fugit suggests, lies in a contemplation of the various aspects of time – real time, limited time, the passing of time, musical time, and illusory time. Thus its rhythmic dimension is paramount, unfolding as a montage of diverse metres, polyrhythms and accentuations. Its harmonic and textural conceptions also reflect the multi-dimensionality of South African society, most distinctively in the clever layerings of different tonalities and instrumental ambiences, which are woven together by the foregrounded colour and idiom of the African marimba”.