Liz Johnson

ARANEIS - Studies of British Spiders
for solo recorder

duration: 11 minutes

ARANEIS - Studies of British Spiders (1999)

1. Silver Swimmer (Argyroneta Aquatica) - tenor (3 min)
2. Araneomorph Aeronaught - descant (1 min 50 sec)
3. Diadem - treble (5 min 20 sec)

My interest in spiders was activated by the book Spiderland by R.A. Ellis. This amazing book describes all types of spiders and their habits in rich and flowing Victorian prose, in which the author refers to several spiders as close personal friends. It was this fascination and delight in the arachnid world that I wanted to portray rather than the arachnaphobic image that is more often associated with our eight-legged friends.

These three pieces were written for and first performed by Louise Phillips who had first introduced me to the contemporary Japanese recorder repertoire. This influence is strongly felt in the first piece, which describes the only underwater spider in Britain. The silver swimmer constructs its web by collecting air bubbles and creating an air bell in which it lives. Varied glissandi and tremolandi are used in this gentle, simple and passive piece.

"Araneomorph aeronaught" is the name give to the baby spider who is dispersed from the nest by climbing to a high post or bush, facing the wind, where it sends out a Ion. thread of silk which is then caught by the wind, lifting the tiny spider into the air. The currents carry the spider off until eventually it is returned to the earth to set up home in pastures new. The melodic and rhythmic material is constructed entirely from the letter patterns in the words "araneomorph", "aeronaught" and other related words, through which the music lifts off and flies through the air.

Diadem is a more extended piece which moves from static calm to purposeful activity, ending with the "Song of the Spider". The Diadem spider is the common garden spider familiar to all as the builder of the beautiful orb web. The spider sits patiently at the centre, waiting for the vibrations of both wind and prey.

Having gained an MA (distinction) in composition in 1999, Liz Johnson (née Dilnot) is now studying towards PhD. (Composition) at Birmingham Conservatoire with Philip Cashian and Robin Grant.

Her recorder quartet Pond Life examines the movements and shapes of water beetles, daphnia and snail shells, close links with nature often being a feature in her music. Cygnus for percussion quartet explores the beautiful constellation of the swan and was selected by spnm for performance at the 1999 Spitalfields Festival by Ensemble Bash. Her first string quartet Images of Trees was featured at the RNCM Quartetfest 2000 and her cello and piano sonata Brief is the Breath won the Birmingham Chamber Music Society Composition Prize 2000. Other works include Twelve Jewels, performed by BCMG in June 2000, Walking Dreaming for gamelan orchestra, which was played as part of the 1999 World Music Day at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and a range of sacred and secular choral works which have been sung in cathedrals around the country.

Liz also performs her own work in the three-voice group Alchemy in which the music of Hildegard von Bingen is sung alongside new works for female voices and instruments. She has toured Germany as director of the Birmingham Conservatoire Composer's Ensemble and is the founder and director of the Thallein Vocal Ensemble specialising in contemporary works for unaccompanied chamber choir.

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