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Hans Roosenschoon's Choral Music

Kappis, Jolene Auret (2023-03)


Hans Roosenschoon's music is performed infrequently and has not attracted much scholarly investigation. The present study is the first research project at a doctoral level that deals with Roosenschoon’s work. Through the discussion and analysis of a selection of his choral music this study endeavours to show that his work is, indeed, of paramount importance to South African art music in the European tradition. Based on Hermann Danuser’s “contextualising” method of analysis the study presents a detailed discussion of the contextual and structural aspects of the works in question. Firebowl (1980), set to the similarly titled poem by Sydney Clouts, is the first choral composition in which Roosenschoon evokes the sounds of Africa, being predated by the brass quintet Makietie (1978). It is claimed that these works are the first by a South African composer to engage in a consistent manner with the stylistic elements of African music and it challenges the narrative that African influence was first introduced into South African art music by other composers. The discussion of the sacred choral work Prayer of St Richard (1990) highlights Roosenschoon’s use of layering and stratification as stylistic devices, while his technique of manipulating predetermined tone constellations is also illustrated. The third work under discussion, Miserere (1991), shows a further development in Roosenschoon's style: compact but effective presentation of textural contrasts and the movement between consonance and dissonance characterise this work. The trilogy Kô, lat ons sing (1993) forms the centrepiece of this study. The work has three movements, Ons het 'n hys gebou, O waar is Moses and Kô, lat ons sing, which are musical settings of poetry by the renowned Adam Small. The work incorporates African and European stylistic elements as well as the sounds of the Cape. Thematic references to the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the anthem Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika are shown to be present in the first movement. Tone constellations derived from Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika also characterise the haunting second movement. The third movement presents an explosion of folklike ideas and culminates in a full rendition of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. The following composition to form part of this study, Mbira (1994), presents yet another, highly original example of the composer’s continued engagement with African music. Here he creates a text out of the names of four African musical instruments, creating an ingenious composition that alludes to the sounds of these instruments and the music with which they are associated. Magnificat (1994), the third sacred composition in this study, presents traits similar to those of the previous two sacred works. Imitation of motivic material, layering, stratification and transformation of texture, the clever manipulation of thematic material and the continuous sway between consonance and dissonance are the work’s outstanding characteristics. Lux Aeterna (2003), shows another side of Roosenschoon's compositional style. Here he exploits the possibilities offered by progressions of tonally derived chords that are not related to each other within a tonal structure. The final work, Sky (2004), places the serene poetry of Sydney Clouts’ Slope down, Great Sky into an evocative eruption of sound, depicting Roosenschoon's predilection for playing with this element in very imaginative ways. Linking the text “in a dream of encircling, circling” from the composition Sky with the present study, the hope is expressed that this research will create a further "circling" of Hans Roosenschoon’s highly significant contribution to South African art music in the European tradition.

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