Anna Pope

Anna Stirling Pope ~ composer (b 1968)

I write music because I must. Music comes into my head and inhabits my being until I commit it to paper.

I write for the human voice. In all its beauty and variety, it provides a profound and accessible glimpse into the richness of our experience and the possibilities of the human spirit.

Usually words and music come together, although sometimes it is a special text that inspires a musical response. The spiritual intensity of Hildegard’s poems, or the human understanding of Shakespeare are also texts which have inspired me.

I started my musical life as a pianist, singer and flautist, soon finding that the human voice, and choral singing in particular, held a special magic for me! Studying music theory and history at the University of Adelaide and singing in dozens of choirs opened up a world of wonderful music and a growing passion and deepening understanding of Classical music, particularly early music. Three years’ singing and conducting in Cambridge, including intense music-making on several tours, was then followed by 12 years with the internationally-renowned Adelaide Chamber Singers.

The wonderful music I have been privileged to perform since the mid 1980s, and the many outstanding singers and conductors I have worked with, have inspired me to write music of my own. Music which explores history and the possibilities of the human voice; and which delves into the human experience.

My first song Elegas was written in response to my mother’s (pre-emptive) request to compose something for her funeral. Fortunately, I have never had cause to perform it! After that, songs started to pour out of me, including songs dedicated to my husband and each of my four children, and two song cycles.

In 2002, the Eve Vocal Ensemble commissioned me to write a choral work, and during the creation of Moments of Magic, several other ideas for choral works were born! In December 2002, the first public performance of my work was the plainsong version of O Virtus Sapientiae, performed by the Eve Vocal Ensemble (who later released it on their first CD ‘Evesong’). The plainsong was taken from a three-part piece of the same name (recorded by Lumina and available for listening on this website). The extended choral work Moments of Magic (SSA) was first performed by Eve in 2003.

In 2004, Lumina Vocal Ensemble premiered my six-part piece Alleluia (SSSSAA + percussion), and the live recording can be heard on their site. In 2005, I won an Arts SA grant to compose another extended choral work, When David Heard (SSATBB). Lumina premiered this work later that year, and in 2006, When David Heard was performed to a packed Adelaide Town Hall audience and recorded and broadcast live by the ABC.

In 2006, Lumina premiered another plainsong based on Hildegard’s writing, this time my Ave, Generosa (2006).  Then in 2007, I wrote a work especially for Lumina’s ‘England vs France’ concert: Agincourt. Based on the famous battle in which the English officially defeated the French, the piece highlights the waste of such battles. For surely with all such loss of life, it is humanity as a whole which is the loser.

Then in November 2007, two new works were premiered at a composers’ workshop held by Lumina in the Grainger Studio, Adelaide. Blow, blow thou winter’s wind is an atmospheric setting of Shakespeare’s famous poem (from As you like it, Act III, Scene 2). This choral setting of the poem illustrates its whirling winds & cold frosts. Every Three Seconds is an extended work that has taken nearly two years to complete. Inspired by the film The Girl in the Café and allied to the Make Poverty History campaign, it is a meditation on our humanity – a journey both painful and hopeful.

In 2008, I composed Montserrat Meditations for Lumina's 'Italy vs Spain' concert. This work was inspired by the ten surviving works from the Montserrat Codex, and integrated all of them as though different groups of pilgrims were joining together on the plaza in front of the great church at Montserrat.

Later that year, I also completed The Waiting Game, a short SSSSAA work about the Australian drought, as well as The salt pan, an SATB piece about the challenges of reconciliation. These were premiered in Lumina's 2009 Adelaide Fringe concert 'Australian Soundscapes', for which I also wrote a choral cycle of the same name.  This larger work contains six sound poems for SATB and optional didgeridoo, with pieces covering the enigma of the Australian outback (2007), the Nullarbor, the endless desert sky (2008), kangaroos (composed 2007), glories of the didgeridoo and the cruel devastation of bushfires (2009). Live recordings of these works have all been included on Lumina’s 2009 CD ‘Australian Soundscapes’.

In 2010, I composed the three part work The Traveler for Lumina's Adelaide Fringe concert 'Angels vs Demons'. This work explores what might happen after death, with inspiration from Dante's 'Inferno' and parts of the 'Dies Irae'. The traveler (a high lyric baritone) starts in purgatory, where he is introduced to the chorus of angels and demons. In 'Supplicio', he is courted by both choruses, and tries to make up his mind who he should believe and accept as his future. Finally, he ends in Paradise where he is joined by the chorus of angels who enfold him into their midst. I also composed the 8-part Duo Seraphim for the same concert, a piece firmly on the side of the angels and inspired by the Renaissance polyphony of composers such as Gombert and Monteverdi.

In 2010, Lumina completed a short-run CD of contemporary South Australian music. Called New Horizons, this includes several of Anna's recent compositions including Blow, blow thou winter’s wind, Ave, Generosa, The Traveler and Every Three Seconds, as well as many other works by contemporary South Australian composers.

In 2011, Anna started work on a happier cycle of choral works called 'Morceaux de concours', including works about love and peace (including some based on poems by Yeats and from the traditions of Hawaii and the Apache). These pieces later morphed into two separate pieces: the Hawaiian-inspired Aloha and The Heavenly Flame triptych, both of which were premiered by Lumina in their 2012 Love and other surprises concert. The Heavenly Flame turns the traditional sonata structure on its head, with slow outer movements and a fierce and fast-paced central movement. It begins and ends with the serene Cloths of Heaven and Tread softly (based on the poetry of Yeats) and quotes from Dante's Divine Comedy in the middle section The flame of love.

Anna composed her most recent work The Last Dodo especially for the 2013 Fringe program Aardvarks and Armadillos. It is a mournful experimental piece delving into what it must have felt like to be the last dodo, and asking the question of what her song was like and whether it still lives on in the calls of other birds. Many of Anna’s works appear on Lumina CDs or youtube.

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