1978 Music


Chamber orchestra or large ensemble

For chamber orchestra

Tirea was commissioned by the Contemporary Baroque Ensemble with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain, and was written when I was composer-in-residence for Northern Arts in the United Kingdom.

The first performance was given by Sandra Mackay (oboe), Joyce Nixon (violin), Penelope Cliff (cello) and Dan Saunders (harpsichord) with the Contemporary Baroque Ensemble conducted by Alexander Cowdell, at New Zealand House, London on 27 September 1979.

About the work

Tirea is the name for the second day of the Māori lunar calendar. Some technical aspects fo the piece — pitch, texture and rhythm — are derived from the proportions and symmetries of the magic square of the moon, of European or Middle Eastern origin, in which horizontals, verticals and diagonals all add up to the same number.

The overall 3-movement form has something in common with the Brandenburg Concertos in its pitting of a concertino (oboe, harpsichord, violin, cello) against a body of strings, but the detail, although largely canonically conceived, is very different from that of Bach. The first movement is tripartite, with the third section a varied recapitulation of the first. A harpsichord solo leads into the second movement, which makes some use of octave figurations, while the third picks up tempo and energy.


Tirea is scored for oboe, violin, cello, harpsichord and strings.

Score and recording

Buy or borrow the score, or borrow an archival recording from SOUNZ.

Tirea — SOUNZ

Gillian Whitehead: selected works — CD