Silver swans (octets: oboe, clarinet, horn, piano, violin, viola, cello, double bass - with live electronics)
by James Ledger (2012)
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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.
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.
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.
Contents note: 1. A sudden blow -- 2. Broken rings -- 3. Mac the swan.
First performance: by Southern Cross Soloists — 18 Nov 12. QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane
Performances of this work
18 Nov 12: QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane. Featuring Southern Cross Soloists.
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