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Silver swans (octets: oboe, clarinet, horn, piano, violin, viola, cello, double bass - with live electronics)

by James Ledger (2012)

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The Australian Music Centre's catalogue does not include any recordings or sheet music of this work. This entry is for information purposes only.

It is listed in our catalogue because an event featuring a performance of this work was included in our calendar of Australian music. Details of this performance are listed below.

Work Overview

Ancient legend has it that the mute swan remained completely silent throughout its lifetime only to sing a beautiful and mournful song the moment before it died. The term swan-song has since come to describe any last utterance or accomplishment. Schubert's song-cycle "Schwangesang" published in the year of his death is a perfect example. Orlando Gibbon's madrigal "The Silver Swan" refers back to myth and is an extremely poignant and witty setting of the story. I used the text from his madrigal as the basis for my piece Silver Swans. Gibbon's text is heard in its entirety in the final third movement entitled Mac the Swan. The piano player also operates a Mac computer, triggering live playback of pre-recorded sounds. Here, the mechanically-cold and even creepy way the computer speaks brings into strong relief the poignancy of the text.

The first two movements are based on the poetry of W.B. Yeats. The first tiltled A Sudden Blow, is from the first line of his poem "Leda and the Swan". This poem too refers back to Greek mythology: The god Zeus disguises himself as a swan and rapes the mortal Leda. The poem is full of disturbing yet magnificent and majestic images:

A SUDDEN blow: the great wings beating still

Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

By the dark webs.

Similarly, the title of the second movement, Broken Rings, is taken from "The Wild Swans at Coole". This poem is laden with beautiful autumnal images and also reflects Yeats obsession with time. The music begins with a rapid three-note figure in the highest register of the piano that descends and accelerates. When it reaches the lowest register, the three-note figure is taken up by the cor anglais, clarinet and horn - depicting a herd of bugling swans. The electronic sounds enter only toward the end of this movement, taking it into an altogether stranger world.

Work Details

Year: 2012

Instrumentation: 2 clarinets in Bb (1st doubling clarinet in Eb, 2nd doubling bass clarinet in Bb), bass clarinet in Bb, percussion (1 player): 4 Tom-toms (medium to very small), Pedal Bass Drum, Tambourine, Medium Supended Cymbal, Small temple block, Talking drum, MIDI/USB keyboard with laptop computer running Ableton LIVE, piano doubling MIDI/USB keyboard (shared with Percussion), violin, viola, cello, double bass – with low C extension.

Duration: 19 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Contents note: 1. A sudden blow -- 2. Broken rings -- 3. Mac the swan.

Commission note: Commissioned by Southern Cross Soloists, Tura New Music with funds provided by Australia Council.

First performance: by Southern Cross Soloists — 18 Nov 12. QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane

Performances of this work

10 Apr 2014: at Silver Swans (Fremantle Arts Centre). Featuring Etica Ensemble, Jon Tooby.

18 Nov 12: QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane. Featuring Southern Cross Soloists.

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