Spiritual Fantasy No.12

Composer: Frederick Tillis (b. 1930 - d. 2020)
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Composer: Frederick Tillis (b. 1930 - d. 2020)

Performance date: 27/06/2023

Venue: Bantry House

Composition Year: 1995

Duration: 00:10:15

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra, Sibbi Bernhardsson [violins], Masumi Per Rostad [viola], Brandon Vamos [cello]) - [quartet]

Spiritual Fantasy No.12 [1995]

Nobody Knows the Trouble I See

Wade in the Water

I don’t believe in the ivory-tower philosophy of art. If you don’t get with the people what are you doing to preserve the vitality of art and culture? 

Frederick Tillis 1997

Tillis made a career straddling the worlds of jazz and classical music, as well as exploring varieties of Asian music. Throughout his career he pushed for cultural diversity in the music world and the influence of his early jazz career (he began performing jazz in clubs at the age of twelve), is present in many of his classical compositions, blending the quintessentially black-American musical genre with European classical forms. He wrote more than 125 musical compositions and published 12 volumes of poetry. He was also an ardent believer in the power of education, returning to study after serving in the army and later becoming a teacher in various universities.

Spiritual Fantasy No.12 incorporates many of the features of dissonance and syncopation that are such recognisable features of Negro Spirituals and jazz, while using the instrumentation of one of the most high-brow of classical sub-genres. Tillis explains: My influences are from all over the place. What is challenging for me to do is to combine seemingly disparate music traditions and idioms and still speak in a language that musicians and other listeners find interesting.

His deliberate choosing of a European classical style that is infused with the harmonies and themes from the spiritual traditions create a style that is harmonically interesting and full of movement. While many modern composers focus more on pushing the limits of an instrument’s potential in terms of sound, harmony and effects, the rhythmic vigour of this string quartet speaks to his early immersion in music that is made for dancing and movement. The composer again: The composition of the Spiritual Fantasy for String Quartet pays tribute to the essence of the musical expressions of pathos and triumph over worldly obstacles encountered by a people who found hope and strength through faith in God.

The rich texture and full sound found in this string quartet are warm and reverberant, filling the space. There is a passion and urgency in this piece that sharply evokes the fraught history that surrounds African-American music and the depth and fullness speak to the strength through faith that Tillis is looking to portray.

Helen Dawson