Blue Letters from Tanganyika

Orchestra: 3(III+picc).3(III+ca).3(II+Ebcl.III+bcl) - 4.3.2.btbn.1 - timp.3perc - hp - strings
18 minutes
Commissioned by BBC National Orchestra of Wales. First performed 1997 at St. David's Hall, Cardiff by BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Martyn Brabbins. Released by Ffin Records in 2009. 

A musical journey inspired by the African adventures of the composer's mother.


At the age of twenty-six in 1953, Anne Ritchie set off alone for Tanganyika (now Tanzania), with an annual salary of £30 and the task of managing every school in an area the size of England. For two years she travelled on foot and by canoe across the water and wild country, and her letters tell of an exotic, exciting world, with “children doing arithmetic on their bare arms,” and where schoolgirls are startled by a python “but killed it quite happily!”

Forty years after she returned, her son John Hardy began discussions with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales about composing a new piece for a series of concerts. John's inspiration came from the exotic stories told by his mother her letters home, and these blue airmail letters gave the piece its name. “What I did was to use them as the basis for a sort of tone poem,” explains John, “describing in music some of the colour and drama of her time there.”

The 18-minute piece is in four movements, each based on a different part of Anne’s travels: ‘Arrival at the Lake’ after a dangerous night journey through lion territory; ‘Travel on the Lake’, sometimes tranquil, sometimes stormy and always filled with crocodiles and hippos; ‘Twilight on the Lake’ through the stillness of a long African night; ‘On Safari’, with the excitement and fear of the unknown.

Full of exuberant African colours, the piece is rich with imagery and imagination. Anyone who likes classical, orchestral and big film scores will feel instantly at home. Fresh and bold, Blue Letters from Tanganyika conjures an exotic world where lions are banished by bicycle bells, snakes are frightened away with hymns and the only person who can cure an aching tooth is a German nun.

Also at Amazon, Amazon MP3, iTunes and all major download stores. 25p of each CD sale from this site is donated to health and education charities working in Tanzania.


"The rhythmically charged, open and immediately engaging music is bright and colourful while still managing to evoke the African landscape"
Pwyll ap Siôn, Gramophone Magazine

4 stars **** "Four colourful, finely crafted movements"
Phil Sommerich, Classical Music Magazine

"masterpiece of creation... an extraordinary piece of history"
Roy Noble, BBC Radio Wales

"Colourful, filmic, and open to pleasurable listening at a single sitting"
Howard Smith, Music & Vision

"Powerfully cinematic"
Gavin Allen, South Wales Echo


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Culprit 1 remix

Culprit 1 has produced a ground-breaking remix of music from John Hardy's orchestra suite Blue Letters from Tanganyika.

John's orchesta piece is inspired by the adventures of his mother as a young woman, when she worked for several years overseeing schools in a huge area of Tanzania.

Working on his first remix of classical orchestra music, Culprit 1 was drawn in by the combination of distinctive melodies, rich sounds and a unique story. ‘I wanted to stay pretty faithful to the original tune as I liked it so much,’ he explains, ‘I also liked the fact that the music had a personal resonance for John.’

In his remix Culprit 1 built the beat from ‘recordings of people whacking stuff like pipes and doors... samples of classic 808 and 909 machines and a bit of 'mouth percussion' for good measure!’

'Culprit 1's take on the piece retains the flowing, powerful drive of the original and marries it to a light beat and twisting filters that warp and distort the music to good effect.' 
BBC Music Wales

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