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In praise of darkness : for orchestra with concertante for celesta and harp

by Mary Finsterer (2009)

Work Overview

Winner of the Paul Lowin Orchestral Award 2009 - In Praise of Darkness is inspired by the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, in particular his reflections on his own state of blindness, where at a time when he was beginning to receive critical acclaim as a writer and received the prestigious position as Director of the Buenos Aires Library, was encumbered by almost complete blindness. In response to his predicament Borges writes 'No one should read self-pity or reproach into this statement of the majesty of God; who with such splendid irony granted me books and blindness at one touch.'1

Many would see the situation of losing one's sight as the end of their career, their life. Instead Borges chose to interpret his predicament as an alternative journey, a way of accessing his passion.

Borges' response is the source of inspiration for the music I have written. By inverting tragic circumstance into an opportunity for discovery is an indication of his character as a human being and creativity as an artist.

In his essay Blindness, Borges writes that the 'world of the blind is not the night that people imagineā€¦The blind live in a world that is inconvenient, an undefined world from which certain colours emerge.'2 For Borges the colours yellow, blue, green and grey would still appear. Red, white and black had completely vanished.

Borges' reference to single colours re-appearing has provided me with the initial idea for this piece to be characterised by recurring gestures. Borges also discusses how blindness has a way of channelling the memory, and keeping the essence of that recurring thought intact. Memories of people, places, experiences and books are visited in such a way as to encapsulate their intrinsic nature.

This idea of preserving an image has given me an opportunity to reflect and explore my own personal recollections of music I have heard at different times in my life and loved. The reference I have made to the notion of memory in composing In Praise of Darkness is expressed not in the way of quoting directly the work of other composers, but more from the aspect of how I have chosen to experience and then remember that music in my mind's eye. The orchestra is used to evoke a transparency in texture, giving way to the idea of memory as a fluid series of thoughts held together by slowly unfolding melodies that collide with sharp
contrasts of colour and dynamic.

Particular roles are given to the Celesta and Harp. Their continual presence echoes the idea of calling back fragments of life and time, creating a structural reference for the work. I dedicate this piece to the bravery of Borges and those who strive to find a way of overcoming adversity with dignity and creative spirit.

1 Jorg Luis Borges. Poem of the Gifts, Seven Nights. p110 (Faber & Faber 1986)
2 Jorg Luis Borges. Seven Nights. p108 (Faber & Faber 1986)

— Mary Finsterer

Work Details

Year: 2009

Instrumentation: Celesta, harp, flute (alto flute), English horn, clarinet in Bb (slide whistle), bass clarinet (clarinet in Bb & slide whistle), bassoon (slide whistle), French horn in F, trumpet in C (slide whistle), trombone, tuba, percussion (3 players), strings (

Duration: 30 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by Tura New Music, ASKO/Schonberg with funds provided by Australia Council.

First performance: by ASKO Ensemble, Schoenberg Ensemble, Clark Rundell at In Praise of Darkness (Muziekgebouw (Amsterdam)) on 23 Apr 2009

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for/to
2009 Paul Lowin Orchestral Prize Winner Mary Finsterer


Resonate article: 2009 Paul Lowin Awards Prizewinners Announced! by Australian Music Centre

Performances of this work

23 Apr 2009: at In Praise of Darkness (Muziekgebouw (Amsterdam)). Featuring ASKO Ensemble, Schoenberg Ensemble, Clark Rundell.

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