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Ri Marannan (2013)

Instrumentation: Clarinet, Violin, Viola, 'Cello, Double Bass
Duration: ca. 7'
Written for the St. Magnus Festival
Premiere Date: June 26, 2013, Kirkwall, Orkney, UK

Program Note

Ri Marannan (Scots Gaelic for "Concerning Waves") is based on highland bagpipe “ceol mor” (the “big” or “classical” music of the bagpipe), namely, the piobaerachd theme-and-variation form. In traditional piobaerachd, the urlar ("theme") is stated in a flexible tempo, followed by variations of increasingly complex ornamentation with growing rhythmic regularity. The process of learning to perform these themes in a stylistically appropriate manner can be challenging for musicians trained in the Western classical tradition, as standard rhythmic notation is used but interpreted completely differently. When I was learning my first piobaerachd and became stuck performing the rhythm too “squarely,” my teacher suggested I think of waves: the natural ebb and flow immediately aided my playing. Rather than serving as a pure transcription of a bagpipe piece, Ri Marannan utilizes core piping elements to act as a meditation on the paradoxically changing constancy of oceans and waves, flowing easily from one section to the next as musical ideas collide and transform. These include: a continuity of sound from beginning to end of the work (and some overt references to the octave-doubled drones of the highland bagpipe); flexible rhythms changing to regular passagework; relative simplicity of harmonic content (the melody originally written for the bagpipe's modal scale) balanced with an increasingly complex ornamental texture based upon traditional bagpipe ornamentation and upon gestures idiomatic to string instruments; and a lyrical melody that is broken down to the fundamental elements of the theme, ultimately evaporating into pure gesture during the course of the variations.

Ri Marannan was premiered on June 26, 2013, in Kirkwall, Orkney, UK.

— Douglas Buchanan

"[At] the annual Orkney Composers’ Course concert, one of the most satisfying aspects…was the sheer diversity and variety of creative thinking displayed by the eight emerging composers whose music was performed. A wide range of skills was on show too. Some pieces…were notable for their structure; others, such as Ri Marannan by Douglas Buchanan, for their ability to get under the skin of their core material…"

— Carol Main, The Scotsman

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