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Making a hullabaloo over Miriam Hyde's music for flute and piano.
There’s a lot of fuss being made this year about new Australian female composers and naturally, as a woman, I support this hullabaloo. But in this colonial country, dare I ask, are we not in the very bad habit of failing to give full importance to what we already have? I’d like to shine the light on one great lady, one of the foremost Australian composers and pianists of the twentieth century, music educator and poet, Miriam Hyde AO, OBE. Born in Adelaide in 1913, Miriam wrote a wealth of music throughout the 1900’s and I have had the privilege to revive, edit, and record her complete chamber music for flute and piano.
The idea to record the works for flute and piano by Miriam Hyde first came to me in 2011. I wished to honour Miriam’s relatively unknown music so that it could be heard and enjoyed around the world, not just in someone’s AMEB flute exam. These pieces are compositional gems, beautifully crafted with exquisite melodic detail covering all aspects of flute playing. You cannot “hide” behind these Hyde works!
I come from a singing background, and preparing these pieces for recording was like preparing for a lieder recital, with it’s many layers to explore. The entire collection are all encompassing. When I discovered that there were no recording of these works accessible to the public, I was astonished. Indeed 4 of the tracks had never been recorded before.
I put the project on the back-burner for two years as I unexpectedly fell pregnant, gave birth to a baby boy, and became invisible for a time while nesting and playing a lot of JS Bach, my peace and joy. Nature walks became frequent and I began absorbing more of Miriam’s works which are significantly nature inspired. Miriam stayed true to her own voice, despite the huge musical changes sweeping across Europe and America in her time. It has been said that she “wrote from the heart”, which is what I admire and love about her music. Miriam was also a devoted mother, so we have that in common!
In 2013, when the postnatal fog began to lift, I was invited by Piers Lane to perform at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. There I performed with the wonderful British pianist, Andrew West. Andrew was quite obviously, to my ears, a singer’s pianist with a great sense of phrasing and a most polished and refined touch. Andrew had never heard of Miriam Hyde, but was definitely curious about her, and I was delighted when he agreed to make the recording with me. Miriam attended the Royal College of Music from 1932-35, returning to Australia in 1936 and certainly drew inspiration from her years in the UK, so I thought it quite fitting to record with a Brit. In 2013 and exactly 100 years since Miriam’s birth – I was ready to go ahead and record the 13 works!
Out of the blue, I received an email from Geoffrey Simon, long-standing friend of Miriam Hyde and the Director of Cala Records in London. Geoffrey was so full of enthusiasm and passion for Miriam Hyde’s music, that I was easily persuaded to record with his company. It was decided that London had a venue which would ultimately compliment these pieces. St Jude’s On The Hill was our chosen venue and it was perfect.
As the 13 works were just a little too short for a CD, I needed more content and it had to be more of Miriam Hyde. Then I came up with a somewhat controversial new idea. Why not add some of Miriam’s poetry as a bonus track? Fortunately Cala records supported my idea.
Christine Edwards, Miriam’s daughter, sent me some of her mother’s unpublished poetry, full of humor and playfulness. After considering asking Cate Blanchett to recite the poetry (one can only ask!) I decided to ask an actor I knew personally, known for his beautiful speaking voice, with just the right Aussie twang... Gerard Maguire, my very own uncle.
At the first recording session, I met my wonderful sound engineer and producer Philip Rowlands. He was glowing with warmth and had a manner which at once made me feel at ease. There followed two incredible days of recording. There was adrenaline, elation, despair and exhaustion. When the music was finally “in the can”, I felt overwhelming relief and joy. In my own personal way, I had made a meaningful contribution to Australian music.
The CD cover for Dancing Shadows was found one evening whilst surfing the internet after a long day of rehearsing and chatter over a glass of incredible Polish vodka. Both Andrew and I couldn’t imagine a better image to represent the recording. Australian, Modern and Surprising.
My Album Dancing Shadow – the complete works for flute and piano by Miriam Hyde, is dedicated to my family and to Australia with love. Andrew West and I will perform works from this CD on September 26 at the 2015 Sydney Chamber Music Festival at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum in Manly.