From Austria with Love Program Notes
A Thousand Natural Shocks, Kelly-Marie Murphy
Kelly-Marie Murphy was born on the Sardegna NATO base in Italy and grew up on Armed Forces bases all across Canada. She gained her B. Mus. in 1987 and an M. Mus. in 1989 from the University of Calgary, working with composer Allan Bell. She then studied at the University of Leeds where she obtained her Ph.D. in composition under the supervision of Philip Wilby in 1994. For many years she was based in Washington, D.C. where she was designated “an alien of extra-ordinary ability”! She is now resident in Ottawa.
Kelly-Marie Murphy has been the recipient of many prizes for her compositions including the first prize in the New Works Calgary Composers’ Competition in 1992. Murphy’s music has been performed in the UK, Japan, Europe and North America by outstanding soloists and ensembles led by such renowned conductors as Sir Andrew Davis and Mario Bernardi. Her most recent awards include the inaugural Maria Anna Mozart Award in 2017 and she was the winner of the Azrieli Commission in 2018.
Kelly-Marie Murphy is now one of Canada’s most accomplished composers. Her works have substance and originality as well as being clothed in fascinating orchestral colour. This work is a case in point.
The composer has provided the following note:
“A Thousand Natural Shocks was commissioned by the CBC at the request of Bramwell Tovey, for the occasion of his first concert as music director with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
“The idea behind the piece is that change and new beginnings can be shocking and stressful, but also full of fantastic challenges that are ultimately as rewarding as they are necessary. The fear and tension of a new experience can quickly melt into a thrilling course of action. Whereas Shakespeare had Hamlet wondering what to do when faced with “outrageous Fortune”, Machiavelli proposed that “Fortune favours the impetuous”. Musically, I explore these approaches in elements of the orchestration. The piece begins with an extended timpani solo. When the orchestra finally enters, it is a loud, chaotic, tangle of lines in competition with one another. Although the majority of the piece is highly charged, fast, and dramatic, an important feature of all my works is the solo voice. These moments focus on the individual voice that can be overwhelmed by the crowd, yet is capable of being heard. In addition to the opening timpani solo, the piece also features extended solos for harp, oboe, flute, and percussion.
“A Thousand Natural Shocks is in one movement and lasts roughly 9’30”. It was written between January and July  and is dedicated to Bramwell Tovey with great respect. The title comes from Hamlet’s soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be...’ ‘and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.’
Motet: Exsultate, jubilate K. 165, Mozart
The exuberant perfection of Mozart’s solo motet Exsultate, jubilate, tends to make us forget that he was only seventeen when he composed it for the famous Italian castrato, Venanzio Rauzzini in January 1773. They had met while Mozart and his father were on their third and last tour of Italy to oversee the performance of Mozart’s opera Lucio Silla. Exsultate, jubilate is set in four sections: two da capo arias (one a fast and dazzling Allegro, the other a serene Andante) framing a brief recitative and then topped off by a glitteringly brilliant Allelulia finale. Oboes and horns add colour and brilliance to the proceedings while the soprano soloist delivers herself of a dazzling concerto for voice and orchestra, completing this extraordinary work in the most joyous fashion imaginable.
Symphony No. 7 in E major, Bruckner
Writing about the music of Bruckner is as effective/difficult as trying to describe a rainbow. Certainly, words can delineate its colours, its contour, but words can never adequately describe its beauty against a lead black sky. It has to be seen. So it is with the music of Bruckner. Words can describe the elaborate harmonic progressions that are the basis of his music, they can describe the structural details of each movement, but they cannot properly describe what the ear hears, the mind receives, the soul responds to.
Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, perhaps the most popular of his nine symphonic epics, is no exception. I can tell you that it is about a soul’s ecstatic apotheosis, but you won’t really understand my meaning, just as “grandeur, majesty, glowing sound” ultimately become defeated attempts to describe this music. But the ear hears; the soul responds. This is very special music indeed. To encounter Bruckner is to encounter a world unknown to science, unknown to objectivity; it is music that belongs to those deeply personal moments in life when one’s heart attempts to rip aside the ribs which contain it in so constrictive a volume.
And still you ask what is it about?
It is about supremely controlled
It is about melodic arches that
rise with the grandeur of fan vaults in Gothic cathedrals.
It is about structure and form –
vastly expanded, yet still linked to the classical concept of musical form.
It is about sonority of a totally
It is about formidable
It is about the creation and
release of tension.
It is about ecstasy and other
It is about inevitability.
It is about beauty.
It is about sorrow.
It is about life.
And who was this Bruckner?
Born in 1824, the son of an Austrian country schoolteacher, by his mid twenties Bruckner had become a notable organist. From the Monastery Church of St. Florian he went to Linz Cathedral (1856) and finally was appointed organist of the Hofkapelle in Vienna in 1878 (having been an honorary designate organist since 1868). And there you have the secret to Bruckner’s unique sense of orchestral sonority; he treated the orchestral divisions as so many ranks of organ pipes controlled from different manuals. The symphonies are characterized by their blocks of sound: strings, brass (sometimes augmented with ‘Wagner’ tubas) and woodwinds used as counterweights to each other. And it was in Vienna (he became a University lecturer in 1875) that he suffered the agonies of the damned. In 1862 he had heard (‘seen’ would misrepresent the event) Wagner’s Tannhäuser. He was thirty eight. He was deeply learned in the art of counterpoint and harmony – but was no composer. Tannhäuser unlocked his muse, set his musical foundations alight. Out flowed the nine symphonies (ten, if you count No. ‘0’!), the final three great masses, the Te Deum and other church music – all uniquely Brucknerian, all massive constructs of musical architecture and all anathema to Vienna’s arch music critic and Chief Anti Wagnerite, Eduard Hanslick.
Bruckner was not a city sophisticate; if anything he was a pathetically naïve country bumpkin. So bad were Hanslick’s attacks on this ‘Wagner disciple’ (a mis attribution made by both the warring Wagnerites and Brahmsians) that poor Bruckner, after his first real success with the Symphony No. 7 at its première in Leipzig on December 30th, 1884, implored the Vienna Philharmonic not to place the work on their programme as he feared Hanslick’s invective. They did; Hanslick obliged; Bruckner suffered.
Over one hundred and thirty years later, this wonderful music envelopes the tattered souls of our day with a soothing balm. It reminds us of those special qualities that mark the human spirit, that let it soar to lofty heights, that let it escape the gravitational pull of corruption and destruction. At that elevation oxygen is scarce, visions prevail and death becomes a comprehensible state of ecstasy.