9 Dec 2016

JENNY MCLEOD: The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo

From Resound, 10:01 pm on 9 December 2016

Viva Voce/John Rosser. Recorded by RNZ Concert, 28 April 1990.

Jenny McLeod

Jenny McLeod Photo: SOUNZ - Supplied by composer

Born in Wellington in 1941, Jenny McLeod grew up in Timaru and Levin. She enrolled at Victoria University in 1961, studying music with Frederick Page, David Farquhar and Douglas Lilburn. After hearing a recording of Quartet for the End of Time, McLeod resolved to go to Paris to study with Messiaen, whose generous mentorship made a lasting impression on her and resulted in a life-long friendship. After Paris, she moved on to study with Boulez in Basel, and then with Stockhausen and Berio in Cologne, where she wrote For Seven (1966). In 1971 she was appointed Professor at Victoria University, remarkable on two counts – as a woman and as being just twenty-nine years old. In 1987 she met the Dutch composer Peter Schat, who introduced her to his “Tone Clock” theory. McLeod became fascinated with this new systematic classification of triads, and immersed herself in a study of its theory and applications, and composed Tone Clock Pieces for piano (1988-89). In 1993 a new direction was set by He Iwi Kotahi Tatou for Maori and Pakeha choirs, the beginning of a close association with Maori culture. 

The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo was commissioned by the New Zealand Music Federation (now Chamber Music New Zealand) for the Cambridge University Chamber Choir's NZ tour in 1986.

The composer says: "It’s an Edward Lear poem. The Cambridge Unversity choir were coming on a tour for CMNZ in 1986 – the NZ Music Federation as it was. I wrote this piece for them knowing that it would probably be the most unlikely thing they had ever sung. It’s  a very sad tale of unrequited love between Mr Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo and Lady Jingly and the gentleman she’s betrothed herself to, Handel Jones, Esquire, & Co., which was a mistake because she loves Mr Yonghy Bonghy Bo. It's just his proposal came too late and he rides a turtle off into the sunset isles of Boshen, with a sad primeval motion and farewells her forever. As for why I chose Edward Lear – I grew up with him as a kid and everything by Edward Lear is adorable. And then something English was so suited to the Cambridge University Choir. It’s a little bit jazzy, a little bluesy, and every verse is different – in the harmony at least, it’s actually very difficult. But they sang it superbly. and with really straight faces and everything. It was wonderful and very beautiful."

Read the full poem by Edward Lear here