Ever since the mysterious and bizarre ‘dancing plague’ of 1518 there has been a long tradition of pieces of music in which dancing and death find themselves in weirdly close proximity.
Totentango (composed in 2009) is my own modest attempt to engage with that tradition. I wanted to fuse together the ominous rhythms, harmonies and melodic patterns of several different kinds of dance music. At the start we hear mysterious habeñera rhythms from which a tango emerges and then, as the music gains impetus, elements of waltz and more modern types of dance music are caught up in the inexorable whirl. The score turned into a rather filmic homage to Ravel, as if orchestrated by Bernard Herrman! Needless to say, it was curious to find oneself writing such music while the world’s free market economic system went into freefall. Ravel’s own comment (scrawled on his own score of La Valse) seemed curiously prophetic: “we are dancing on the rim of a Volcano”.
Totentango was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra as part of their UBS Soundscapes series.