Title: Tuvan Songbook

Year: 2016

Program note:

Writing in 1960, the Philosopher of Religion Mircea Eliade stated: “the encounter with non-Western cultures will compel him [Western man] to explore very deeply into the history of the human mind and perhaps to conclude that he must incorporate this history as an integral part of his own being. In fact, the problem… which will present itself with increasingly dramatic urgency to investigators of the next generation is this: By what means can we recover what is still recoverable of the spiritual history of humanity?”, going on to suggest that “sooner or later the dialogue with the ‘others’… will have to be conducted, no longer in the empirical utilitarian language of today… but in a cultural language capable of expressing human realities and spiritual values.” (from the forward to The Two and the One).

It looks like he foresaw the advent of ‘world music’, a term coined around the same time by Robert E. Brown – an ethnomusicologist at Wesleyan University – which has long since been turned into a marketing tool for all sorts of questionable fusion projects. Maybe –  without wanting to – that’s what i’m doing here? I can’t say. In any case, the four traditional Tuvan songs – all in some way about horses – that I have transcribed and re-composed, are all known to me from the Ay-Kherel CD ‘The Music of Tuva – Throat Singing and Instruments from Central Asia’ (2004, Arc Music) which is indeed categorised under ‘World Music’ on Amazon. According to the notes from that CD, this is what the songs are about:

1. Dyngylday: “If you have come on a horse in blue, it doesn’t mean that you are the best. My heart tells me something else: my sweetheart doesn’t have such a beautiful horse, but he is my darling”

2. Eki Attar (The Best Steeds): “The horse is the basis of our life. It is a magic creature. Even its step is full of music and rhythm. You may not be a horse-rider but when you hear this song you will always remember horses.”

3. Kuda Yry: “This wedding song glorifies the strength of the groom and the beauty of his horse.”

4. Ezir-Kara (‘Black Eagle’): “This was the name of a horse, who became a legend through his remarkable strength and speed.”

It was the practice of throat singing – following workshops with Michael Ormiston – that first attracted me to Tuvan music, and this songbook is the first in a series that I am writing for the Ligeti Quartet, each engaging with a different vocal tradition. But it is not just overtones that abound here, there are galloping rhythms aplenty, and though I am no horse rider I tried to keep the horses galloping in my imagination while composing these pieces.