CD release of "Ballade Arctique", June 2014 - by harpist Katrina Szederkenyi.
Ballade Arctique, written for Katrina Szederkényi in 2013, explores the colouristic and virtuosic capabilities of the harp to retell a true story of the Canadian north, originally told by Farley Mowat in his book People of the Deer. An Inuit hunter and his family are starving as the life-giving herds of caribou disappear from the northern tundra. In desperation the hunter sets out on a quest, finds and shoots a lone caribou. On his way home he encounters another starving family. Breaking the law of men, he refuses to share any of the kill. During the night he has a nightmare in which he is surrounded by howling wolves. Waking suddenly, he discovers that wolves have indeed stolen the carcass. He arrives home empty-handed to find his wife feeding the last drops of her blood to the infant. The grandmother curses him.
This story is translated into a series of musical episodes. An introduction depicting the bleak northern landscape brings in the two principal melodic ideas: an ascending fourth (pure, later augmented) followed by a half step in the opposite direction, and a snake-like chromatic “hunger” motive. A family scene alternates the gnawing “hunger” motive, played near the soundboard of the harp, with a “mother and child” melody in which the fourth descends. The following hunting scene, proceding in free canon, depicts the quest, bow-shot and falling caribou. A scene with the second starving family reintroduces the gnawing “hunger” theme, interrupted by the hunter’s sharp refusals to help. In the following wolf-nightmare scene, massive parallel chords transform the “hunger” motive into the howling of wolves, suddenly broken off as the hunter awakens with a start and realises (with “hunger” in deep octaves) that he has utterly failed in his attempt to care for his family. After a slight pause the “mother and child” melody is developed into a plaintive death scene. Finally, the grandmother’s curse takes the form of a jagged, wild and relentless fugue.