"Seachanges" (with danse macabre) - Reservoire
The idea of composing a series of chamber works based on the idea of Death was running through my head in 1993 - works that would not be elegiac, but mocking and defiant. I was fortunate in that three commissions in quick succession enabled me to compose what I called my "Macabre Trilogy", of which "Seachanges (with danse macabre)" was the first to be composed. The other two works are "Catacombs" and "Marche oubliée". Although these compositions are loosely linked, they may also be performed as independent works.
"Seachanges (with danse macabre)" was commissioned by the Concord Ensemble in 1993. I began work on it in Oaxaca, mexico, just after the 1993 ISCM World Music Days which had been held in Mexico City, and completed it the following year in Paris.
I was deeply impressed by the ubiquitous imagery of death in Mexico, which evoked for me the mediaeval Totentanz tradition in Europe: a defiant carnivalesque response to the Black Death. The piece is built on a number of heterogeneous elements: a 3-note melody that had come to me on the Atlantic coast of Ireland (and that undergoes a radical "sea-change" when transferred to Mexico's Pacific coast), the "Dies Irae" plainchant, the canonic techniques of the late Mexico-based US-born composer Conlon Nancarrow, the timbres and dance rhythms of the Mexican mariachi band...
"Seachanges (with danse macabre)" is on the Leaving Certificate syllabus in Ireland, and hence has become well-known to untold numbers of long-suffering adolescents.