Chambers of the south : for orchestra
by Natalie Williams (2001)
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The title of this piece comes from Job 9:9, "…who made the Bear
and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the South."
This piece is my response to a photo of the Pleiades star cluster, which was exhibited in Adelaide during 1997. It was taken by Astro-photographer David Malin,
who is resident at the Anglo-Australian observatory in New South Wales. The star cluster, also known as Messier 45 and The Seven Sisters, is visible in both the
Southern and Northern hemispheres and are situated about 400 light years from earth within the constellation of Taurus. The cluster is known as a reflection
nebulae; this refers to the way in which light particles pass through the dust clouds surrounding the constellation and which causes the deep blue and white tones
captured in David's photograph.
The Pleiades feature heavily in ancient mythology and have inspired legends from numerous cultures. In Greek Mythology the seven sisters (Asterope, Taygeta,
Celaeno, Maia, Alcyone, Electra and Merope) are the daughters of Atlas and Pleione. In Japan they are known as Subaru2, (meaning united) in New Zealand they are
Matariki (little eyes) and to the Australian aboriginal tribes of the Narangga group, the Muruwari and the Adnyamathanha, they are known as maids or shy young
women.3 The common thread between many Pleiades legends is the idea of a group of women or creatures that were chased across the earth and fled, seeking refuge,
to the sky.
The beautiful dark blue colours of the Pleiades photo immediately suggested to me rich orchestral textures that I felt would work well in this short piece for ACOF. I
have written the work to be an exploration of textures and colours reminiscent of the suggested tones of the photograph. My aim was to compose a slow, meditative
work with a primary focus on the transition of colour in orchestral writing. Using a wide palette from deep blues and blacks (of the photograph) to brightest white, I
have aimed to contrast the orchestral colours throughout the piece. The centrepiece of the work, heard on solo violin, is a melodic fragment taken from my score for a
recent State Theatre of SA production, La Maison Suspendue (House among the Stars).
The rise and fall of sections in the piece corresponds to fragments of Pleiades stories and legends that inspired my central ideas. The undulating textures
represent the flight and pursuit of the seven sisters (according to legend), across the night sky. The piece begins and ends with the interval of a fifth, modulating through a cycle of unrelated keys; this is symbolic of the physical situation of the star cluster, which (from left to right) expands and contracts vertically. The result is a
piece which traverses the many hues of the Pleiades star cluster, inspired by the Malin photograph.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B flat, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B flat, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, strings.
Duration: 7 min.
Difficulty: Advanced — Advanced amateur/professional.
Commission note: Composed for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra as part of the 2001 Australian Composers Orchestral Forum
Performances of this work
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