The Māui Cycle is an orchestral work in four movements:

  • 1. Te Ika a Māui (The Fish of Māui)
  • 2. I mau a Tama te Rā i a Māui (Māui Slows the Sun)
  • 3. Na Māui te Ahi a te Ao (Māui brings Fire to the World)
  • 4. I Mate a Māui i a Hine-nui-te-Pō (The Death of Māui)

This is pure program music. I wanted to write a sort of New Zealand Till Eulenspiegel and chose four Māui legends. Although I am not a great admirer of Richard Strauss, I do think his Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche is a masterpiece. In many ways Māui is similar to Till Eulenspiegel: his audacity, his vitality and his humour.

The figure of Māui is played by the clarinet, a part which is so important that the work became a Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra.

Māui performing a Karakia from his brother’s canoe — Don McAra

1. Te Ika a Māui (The Fish of Māui) Māui dreams of going fishing with his older brothers. When they refuse to take him he hides in their canoe with his magic hook. They are very annoyed when they find him but with his powerful “karakia” (magic spell) he helps his brothers to a fabulous catch. Then he lets down his own special hook and catches something unbelievably big which leads to a herculean struggle. He has fished up Aotearoa, New Zealand. While he is going to get help, the brothers start cutting up the “huge fish” and then realise that the gods are not pleased with them.

Te Ika a Māui - Phil Green (Clarinet)

Soloist Phil Green and conductor Benjamin Northey rehearsing this movement with the NZSO in the Wellington Town Hall 2009

Discussing the score with Benjamin Northey in the Wellington Town Hall 2009

2. I mau a Tama te Rā i a Māui (Māui Slows the Sun) In the beginning the sun moved too rapidly around the earth so that the days were too short for the people to do all their work. Māui and his friends travel to the place where the sun rises out of a pit. They build a snare of ropes over the pit to catch the sun as it rises and they beat it mercilessly until it agrees to move more slowly. The people of Māui’s whānau are very proud of him.

3. Na Māui te Ahi a te Ao (Māui brings Fire to the World) Māui wonders where fire comes from. In the night he puts out all the fires in the village. The people are very upset but Māui promises to go to the fire goddess and bring fire back again. Mahuika, the fire goddess lives in a cave in the fiery mountain. She receives Māui and gives him a burning fingernail. The wicked Māui wonders how long she would continue tearing out her own nails to give him fire. He drops the nail in a stream and returns to ask again—and again and again until Mahuika is furious. She chases him away and pursues him. He changes himself into a hawk to escape but she sets the forests on fire. Māui dives into a river to save himself. Later he finds out that some of the trees in the forest have kept Mahuika’s fire. He teaches the villagers how to make fire using the wood of these trees.

4. I Mate a Māui i a Hine-nui-te-Pō (The Death of Māui)

Māui decides to conquer death, Hine-nui-te-Pō, the Great Lady of the Night. Māui’s father warns him not to try to kill Hine-nui-te-Pō for he would surely die, since he, the father, had omitted saying an important prayer when Māui was born. Māui ignores his father and asks the birds if they will accompany him. The fantail, tiwakawaka, dances a haka and Māui joins in. He changes himself into a sparrowhawk and they all fly off. They arrive at Rarohenga, the home of Hine-nui-te-Pō. She is asleep. Māui warns the birds to be very quiet and not to laugh. He changes himself into a caterpillar to enter the godess. But the fantail can contain his laughter no longer and then all the birds laugh too. Hine-nui-te-Pō awakes and crushes Māui between her legs. All the people are very sad and sing a Waiata Tangi (lament). Māui, as a spirit, decides to change the mood of this sadness: they should celebrate his life, not mourn his death. He is dead but nevertheless immortal for he lives on for ever in the hearts of the people.

See also Jack Body who was present at the “reading” in Wellington in Oct. 2014.