Download score: Raven and the First Men
Commissioned by the Women’s Music Club of Toronto. A tribute to the great Canadian artist and sculptor Bill Reid and his sculpture “Raven and the First Men” currently on display at the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, Canada. This is a multimedia concert performance work featuring a live string quartet performance, embellished by a video projection.
The music for Raven and the First Men responds to Bill Reid’s monumental sculpture of the same title shown on the back of the old Canadian $20 bill (bottom left corner). Reid’s remarkable work of art is currently housed at Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology where I spent many hours contemplating its message, a story that takes us back to the very first moment in history, a moment when an enormous raven opened up a clamshell and found little men hiding inside. These, according to the ancient Haida legend, were the first human beings.
The music is written in six short movements or miniatures, reflecting the sculpture’s original form as a hand-held carving.
Bird Sanctuary I
Bird Sanctuary II
Faces in the Clamshell
Bird Sanctuary III
The shortest movements titled “Bird Sancuary I-III” are like the post-and-beam structure of the piece. In many ways, the museum itself was a like a personal sanctuary for me during composition process. Other elements that offered inspiration were the many bird calls frequently heard in the surrounding rain forests – thrushes, robins, finches, and ravens – also, the memorizing waves and tidal rhythms of the Pacific Ocean, and of course one of the most constant sounds known to British Columbian West-Coast dwellers: the sound of rain.
In our modern artistic landscape, Bill Reid has become a cultural icon. His works draw on the rich tradition of Northwest Coast First Nations carving and because of this, they offer a unique window into Bill’s lifelong quest to build a bridge between traditional Native artistry and modern Western culture. While his career was controversial, he remained a spokesperson for openness to deep forms of communication across boundaries of culture, place, and time. In the music presented today, I hope some remnant of this intent is preserved.
I am extremely grateful to James Campbell and the New Zealand String Quartet for their brilliant performances of this piece. The recording offered here is from the premiere, live performance, Nov. 2010.
View recording with concert projection video:
Raven and the First Men (Movement 1) from Silent Dawn on Vimeo.
Raven and the First Men (Movement 2) from Silent Dawn on Vimeo.
Raven and the First Men (Movement 3) from Silent Dawn on Vimeo.
Raven and the First Men (Movement 4) from Silent Dawn on Vimeo.
Raven and the First Men (Movement 5) from Silent Dawn on Vimeo.
Raven and the First Men (Movement 6) from Silent Dawn on Vimeo.
“Timothy Corlis’s Raven and the First Men, written last year, was a clarinet quintet, with which the New Zealand String Quartet joined. His piece takes its name from a sculpture in the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology, echoing a legend that describes how a raven opened a clam shell to find little men hiding inside – the first human beings. There was no need to seek detailed connections between music and legend for the music stood on its own firm and adroit feet, employing the clarinet against pizzicato strings with great rhythmic interest, later an agitated section with tremolo strings; sun-lit, lyrical, human; and then an engaging accumulation of sounds over in John Adams-like ostinati. I thought it was surprisng music from a country with much more severe weather than New Zealand experiences.” (Lyndis Taylor, Middle C Classical Music Reviews, Wellington, New Zealand Feb. 2011)
“Timothy Corlis’ Raven and the First Men honours Bill Reid’s sculpture of the same title. This five-part composition is very fine work – warm and accessible, variously textured in keening, quivering, squalling, droney sonics puncutated by pizzicatos and wonderful glissandos that surge in wave after wave of music to an exciting climax. Standing ovation for this work commissioned by the WMCT. The music is beautifully synched to a film in which the camera pans slowly over the golden-toned textures and furrows carved into the wood of Bill Reid’s sculpture.” (Showtime Magazine, Toronto, Nov. 26, 2010)