|DW934 - Precipice:
Standard: Grade 8+
Written in the keys of G and E Major, with excursions into F# major and B minor, there are varying degrees of complexity within what looks at first to be a simple piece.
Unlike much of today’s music, this piece presents the listener with several melodic motifs that can be remembered, and the player with musical and instrumental challenges that require both technique and interpretative skills.
Time Signatures Used: 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/8, 8/4, and 14/8
Its premise is that of Qalaalo (pronounced kalarlo, which means ‘near the cliff’ in his language) – a happy-go-lucky young man who is the head of his tribal family in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, living at the base of Mount Tavurvur – an active volcano.
The volcano comes to life (Bars 1 and 2). Half asleep, he thinks he’s dreaming (the four notes in the third bar, played at leisure on the bass keyboard and repeated in the treble keyboard). But he is awakened as the volcano’s undercurrent rumbling builds and spews lava and hot ash (Bars 19-21).
Qalaalo is confused, and talks to his sisters and other family members - you can hear the tittle-tattle (Bars 24-27). He is sent to look at the disruption the volcano has caused and to give advice as to what should be done. He goes outside, stepping onto the hot ash, which makes him sprint underfoot (Bars 28-31) until he falls down and gets up again to find his balance (Bars 32-42).
Qalaalo’s fast walking pace settles into a stride-hop - a four-note motif (Bar 43). This becomes the main theme for the piece, and for all his actions and interactions with the volcano, the lava and the hot ash which he must negotiate barefoot.
Volcanic disturbances frequently interrupt his journey (Bars 57-62; 90-95) although he is able to recover quickly to go on his way.
He finds a few people - making the sago that nourishes them, and banters back and forth with them to a jazzy theme in the basses (Bars 108-121). But an elder of the tribe interrupts and takes over the conversation (Bars 122-126, treble keyboard).
An exhausted Qalaalo lays down on a pile of warm leaves nearby, then drifts into sleep, with thoughts of his home and family (Bars 127-137), which now seem distant.
He is awakened by the heat of a lava flow (Bars 138-139) as a plume of ash and smoke carries him quickly into the bay adjacent to the town (Bars 140-154), when he suddenly stops (Bar 155).
He hears the strange rumbling again (with vague recollections of his family’s ancient Scottish roots) as the treble notches up a half tone (Bars 157-160). This leads into the time signature of 14/8 and a new motif in the basses as he picks himself off and starts talking to nearby survivors (Bars 161-170).
As they drink the local cava, Qalaalo remembers the words he kept hearing in his sleep (Bars 172-175), gets on his feet and strides in his hip-hop fashion (to a repeat of the four-note motif first heard at Bar 46). Other survivors join him. The cava gives him power to run faster and faster as he tries to escape from the volcano when it erupts again and he is engulfed in the ever-rising flow of lava (life).
And there the story ends. So what happened to Qalaalo? We’ll never know. It’s a cliffhanger!