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Donnacha Dennehy

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Hive (2005)
Text Writer
Lord Byron and Rev. Thomas Beames
G Schirmer Inc
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
17 Minutes
SATB chorus
Programme Note

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Composer Note:
Often when I was too tired to do anything else, and would transcribe neatly my ideas on this piece, I would listen to an interview with the great sculptor (of steel) Richard Serra on my I-Pod. I think that I may have listened to that interview 30 times at least! I heard something different every time.

Towards the end of the interview, Serra tells a story about Matisse as an old man experimenting with new ways of drawing a line. In fact, instead of drawing it, he forced himself to cut it, despite the difficulties. Serra, almost screaming with excitement at this stage, asks “do you think that I THINK that Matisse’s cut line is better than his drawn line?” To which he answers at top volume: “ABSOLUTELY”.

This kept me going in my determination to persist (despite the difficulties in figuring it out!) with writing for a semi-detuned orchestra in this piece. In technical terms, it means that about 2 thirds of the instruments are playing at equal temperament, while the others are detuned down by a quarter tone. Because of this I could generate massively overtone-rich harmonies which would not have been possible otherwise. This dirty harmonic sound is essential to the sound of the piece.

I think of the piece almost like a city, with its various layers of simultaneous activity, and indeed in terms of text, I make use of two which offer highly contrasted views of the same city: London. One is an almost kitschily awestruck account from Byron’s Don Juan, and the other is an hysterical v somewhat racist account of slumlife in 19th-century London by Thomas Beame. In the second text, I concentrate particularly on the descriptions of the Irish community in this context.

— Donnacha Dennehy

  • Ensemble
    RTE National Symphony Orchestra
    Chamber Choir Ireland
    Gavin Maloney
    RTE Lyric FM:
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