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Antill: Corroboree / An Outback Adventure

3.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Australian composer John Antill is best remembered for his exuberant, outstandingly successful and ever-popular ballet Corroboree. Drawing on material Antill notated in 1913 at an Aboriginal Corroboree in Botany Bay and on his subsequent research on A

Review

The Australian composer John Antill (1904-86) is one of those musical figures famous for a single composition--in this case, his orchestral ballet Corroboree, arguably the first substantial piece of Australian concert music to explore inspiration from aboriginal ceremonies. Born and educated in Sydney, Antill spent his early years at the St. Andrew's Cathedral School and studied composition with Alfred Hill and Arthur Benjamin. In his professional life, Antill worked as a professional clarinetist and held various administrative and musical positions with the Australian Broadcasting Company. His musical style as a composer was generally quite conservative, drawing primarily on the Anglican choir tradition in which he was raised and the late-Romantic orchestral world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It is thus interesting that his most famous and significant work is a bit of an aberration within his output. In 1936, Antill began conceiving of an extended ballet inspired by aboriginal caribberies, complex storytelling ceremonies filled with singing and dancing. These ceremonies were deeply connected with the Australian landscape and with the links between past and future. The dancing and singing was intensely physical and left a memorable impression on Antill when he attended a caribberie in 1913 at Botany Bay. Antill completed Corroboree in 1942; it was premiered and championed by conductor Eugene Goosens, who called it the first piece he knew that displayed "really authentic Australian character." Like The Rite of Spring, to which comparisons have been frequently drawn (though Antill said he had never heard Stravinsky's work before writing his piece), Corroboree is usually heard in purely orchestral performances without dance. The concert version is about 40 minutes in length, with seven large movements bearing names such as "Dance to the Evening Star" or "Procession of the Totems and Closing Ceremony." The work bursts with creative orchestral colors and presents a powerfully primitive sound world in the spirit of early-20th-century modernism. It is hard to imagine an audience not enjoying the visceral energy that the music imparts. Corroboree proved tremendously influential in the years that followed, providing a distinctly Australian sound (and orchestral technique) that was further developed by many composers, including Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards, and Barry Conyngham.

The remainder of this short album consists of An Outback Overture, a brief concert piece that represents the style of Antill's other music, displaying some influences of Grainger, Copland, and the late-19th century orchestral idiom of Hill. It is appealing, even if it's not nearly as individual as Corroboree.

Corroboree is a real delight and deserves to be far better known outside Australia. It has long been recognized as a landmark in the development of Australian concert music, but its concert life has been sadly lacking. The performances by the New Zealand Symphony under James Judd are excellent. It is a shame, however, that another work of Antill's was not included, to present a fuller album. The only other commercial recording of Corroboree known to me is a long-deleted EMI release with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. This new Naxos release sounds better and also includes the additional overture.

This disc is absolutely essential for anybody interested in Australian music but will also be enjoyed thoroughly by any listener seeking characterful and exciting orchestral music. -- Fanfare Magazine, Carson Cooman, November 2008

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Product Details

  • Orchestra: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: James Judd
  • Composer: John Antill
  • Audio CD: 305 pages (July 29, 2008)
  • Di Ban ed. edition
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B0018PJEJO
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #475,729 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I first encountered John Antill's ballet Corroboree in 1958 when a suite of excerpts from the complete score had been recorded by Sir Eugene Goosens and the London Symphony Orchestra. That famous Everest Recording (SDBR-3003) was not only a spectacular sonic event in and of itself, but gave exposure to one of Australia's major composers to US and European audiences. Written during the years 1936-1944, the ballet was given its first full production by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and National Theater Ballet on 3 July 1950 conducted by the composer. The score of the work was published by the Australian branch of the British publisher Boosey and Hawkes in 1953.

Antill's score was available for sale then and in 1963 I acquired a copy of it and spent much time happily going through its 209 pages in minute detail. As of this writing (August, 2008) it is no longer in print. The Everest recording presented about 25 minutes of the score which, according to Antill's own careful notations of durations, takes about 44 minutes in total performance time. Some of the interior sections of the score (in Goosens' version) were played complete, others, like the opening "Welcome Ceremony" and the final "Procession of the Totems" were horribly cut. Others were cut out altogether or abridged.

The score of Corroboree has frequently been called the "Australian Sacre du Printemps" - a comparison that is both inaccurate as it is inappropriate. Stravinsky and Antill have little in common, least of all their connections to definable if stylized ethnomusical primitivism. Stravinsky's scenario for his ballet is as wholly imaginary as his music has absolutely nothing to do with an imagined "ancient" music.
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John Antill was born in Australia of English parents. His musical talents were recognized early and he won a scholarship to study composition. The Outback Overture was written in 1954 and is a marvelous piece program as a concert opener. One can detect the influence of Percy Grainger in the good-humored patriotic tone of the music.

Corroboree is an earlier work from 1946 and was written as a ballet. The name is an Anglicized version of an Aboriginal word (Caribberie) which is used to describe their ceremonies accompanying their Dream stories. The stories concern the journeys of ancestors and their interaction with the natural world. Antill attended one of the ceremonies and his music draws on Aboriginal music that he noted. The music has a "primitive" sound coming from many of the unusual percussion instruments used in the work and the mimicking of nature sounds, such as birdcalls. Perhaps the most interesting is a bull-roar that is used in the last section. The brass, in particular, are used to create an uproarious effect. After the opening section, come short dance sequences. The first, titled Dance to the Evening Star is scored for oboe and celesta. The Rain Dance makes use of a xylophone and flute contrasting with the full orchestra. Percussion is highly featured with a rhythmical dance in the Spirit of the Wind. The Rising Sun has a variety of percussion joined by a piano and the full orchestra in a fast-paced music journey. The shortest piece, The Morning Star, makes use of bassoons and clarinet evoking various animals.

The longest section is the Procession of the Totems and Closing Ceremony. Many of the prior melodies are restated and developed and the work ends with a blaze of brass. James Judd does a fantastic job of bringing Mr. Antill's music to life and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra demonstrated that they are a first class orchestra. If you are interested in exotic music this disc should join your collection.
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If anyone were ever really a one-hit wonder among composers, then John Antill (1904-1986) was. Corroboree is perhaps best known as a concert suite, but real credit is due to Naxos for giving us the complete ballet - a thoroughly excellent and engaging work. The work was (as a concert suite) first performed in 1946, and Antill attempted to evoke the atmosphere and ritual of the aboriginal music of his homeland. The result is perhaps more or less entirely Western, despite the inclusion of unconventional effects to the orchestration, but the work is still pretty remarkable with spectacular climaxes, propulsive motivic developments and hammering rhythms - much use of ostinato - with atmospheric respites (especially the notable influences of jazz creates striking effects). One cannot avoid comparisons with Stravinsky's Rite, but similarities are superficial (rhythmically pungent and primitivistic depiction of an aboriginal ritual); Corroboree is an entirely self-sufficient, individual work of real stature. Listen once to the climax of the final movement, for instance - a mad frenzy emphasized by hammering percussion and the wailing of the bull-roarer - and I guarantee you that you've never heard anything really like it.

Antill was aware, however, of the danger that he might end up just re-composing Corroboree if he continued in the same vein, and consequently the work is something of a stand-alone in his output. The rest of his music consists mostly of accessible music in early 20th century style, much influenced by the English choral tradition; often engaging and enjoyable (apparently), but slightly anonymous.
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