Monday, April 1, 2013


The newly discovered (or invented) New Zealand composer named Aubrey Sedley Mortimer is immortal, because he never died; in fact, he was apparently never born.

When the alarm-clock radio came on at 9 am today (Easter Monday) the RNZC announcer, Clarissa in her most serious voice, said (or so it sounded to me in my dazed state): "We interrupt this program with a news flash". Anyway, that was the tenor or basis of it, and it sure was flash news; in fact (or fiction?) it was a flashback to the nineteenth century, a memory of a fantastic past or a Fantasia of murky history (apologies to Disney). Instead of the programmed Lutoslawski, the composer of the week, we were to hear an up-to-date account of Aubrey Sedley Mortimer (or whatever), a nineteenth-century New Zealand musico, the composer for the first day of the month.

The documentary was produced (in every possible sense of the word) and presented (also pre-scented for sleuths) by Roger Wilson (a long-standing personal acquaintance of mine, who does indeed stand taller than myself), an eminent *musicologist (a veritable grey eminence in this instance) and no mere academic but a practising and performing *musician; and what a practised performance this was: he not only sang but also did ventriloquism, producing voices from far out; for economical reasons, presumably, he was mimetically declaiming (with no hint of disclaiming) the alleged comments of Heath, Des, Elric, Douglas, and more.

Apparently it was all Roger's own work (not to say entirely of his own manufacture), but eventually it transpired that Rebecca Blundell was implicated. The biographical details of this missing predecessor of Alfred Hill and Douglas Lilburn certainly rang true, but do not bear repeating.

(PS: it was actually replayed at 7.30 pm, by David Morriss, but will Mortimer make it to the daily and sabbatical listeners' request programs, like Helen Moulder's operatic legend Cynthia Fortescue?)

A.S.M. was a typical Trollopian wastrel of an honourable English lineage, but his family (like the Quills of Bal-ham) paid for him to study music abroad, thereby hoping to see the last of him; in this case Aubrey left Leipzig (where he conceivably had pregnant encounters with Alfred Hill and Arthur Sullivan) and migrated to New Zealand, the furthest bastion of British civilization.

Aubrey's Mâori connections (including a Mâori consort and a consort of taonga instruments) were striking, and one particular chord he struck at the opening of one of his operas, in which a miscegenational Pâkeha-Polynesian relationship occurs, turns out to be the mystical Tristan chord. Roger Wilson and his Scottish expert on Wagner, found this astonishing and inexplicable, since it could not have been heard in Aotearoa at that time.

Well now, I have *news for them, and it is no mere *flash in the pan: that chord appears in Haydn's oratorio THE CREATION, which would have been performed by local choral societies. I have heard this fine point demonstrated on the radio by a polyphony pundit; I think it is on the first page; but I digress.

There was a reference to a pair of star-crossed lovers under Mâtâriki (the Pleiades) not to mention the Southern *Cross (and they wickedly failed to do so).

Wondrous to relate, there is a love duet between a basso profondissimo and a contralto: at last a heroic role for me (a third bass for whom composers never provide a part) to sing with my beloved Helen (she will complain if the notes go too low, though). Incidentally, it was Helen who pointed out to me what day of which month this lecture was being delivered.

Like the French composer Messiaen, who collected birdsongs to include, for example, in his opera about Saint Francis of Assisi, who talked to the animals (but it is not correct to say that he was wont to do little else) Mortimer was observed transcribing the calls of the avian fauna of this land. We can forgive him for not recording the cry of the moa, but he overlooked (or overlistened) the huia, and bequeathed a puny piano piece representing a tui (in the flax).

It is not my intention to be hypercritical; as I have often reiterated to you, I am not a reviewer but a previewer; but I did not know this pseudo-doco was coming; it took me by surprise.

I will simply say that anything that satirizes academic pomposity is all right by me.

I am a gullible gull who will gulp anything down the gully of my gullet; I can swallow anything fishy; and I now think I have been the victim of wishful thinking and fishful winking. I have been codded by a load of codswallap.

Fortunately, I had a mental set that alerted me to be circumspect: the report of a box of music manuscripts being found in Hawera (which has a bovine statue as its symbol) reminded me of the discovery of a box of old film reels, which was engraved with the figure of a bull.

The solution to the puzzle of the ultimate source of ASM is here, with CMcK.

It brought to mind a pseudo-documentary that our celebrated Peter Jackson made, named FORGOTTEN SILVER, about an early film-maker in NZ; a Biblical epic (and moving pictures of the NZ aviator who actually  got off the ground before the Wright brothers) was found in a chest with a magnificent bull pictured on its lid; it was a hoax that fooled us all, since Leonard Maltin was included as an authenticating witness; but in the analysis afterwards nobody but myself , it seems, picked up his bull-reference.

Subsequently, the thing was shown on television in Australia. I happened to be there at the time; it was being advertized by David Lange! He was urging people not to watch it!

My son Michael and I were at the Australian National University one day, and we visited the national film and sound centre; we were surprised to see a plaque bearing the name of a significant person in Australian history, who had the same name as PJ had used in his spoof: Colin McKenzie.

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