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Program note: David Chesworth's "Stabat Jesus"

  • program note by the composer

Sabat Jesus is a music theatre work conceived by Ariette Taylor with texts by Paul Carter that was commissioned by the Melbourne Festival in 1990.  The recording was selected to represent Australia in the 1994 Paris International Rostrum of Composers.  Part of Sabat Jesus is used as the theme music for ABC Classic FM’s New Music Program and was also used for some years as the Melbourne Film Festival’s Fanfare.

The work is loosely based on a true story about a deaf mute boy who was found wandering the streets of a Mexican town.  At the time, no one could say just who he was or where he was from.  When he made a drawing of a crashed airplane, the press and public went wild with speculation.  The authorities called him Sabat, after the day on which he was found - Saturday; it later turned out that his real name was Jesus.  The work explores some of the many intriguing theories about the boys past.

The story was adapted for stage by director Ariette Taylor, and explores the mystery of his appearance and his apparent survival alone in the desert with only the ancient Mayan Sun Gods for protection.  Utilising the vast space of the Melbourne Town Hall, Sabat-Jesus proclaimed the sounds of trucks, computers, cicadas and birds alongside voiced melodies and rhythms which have themselves metamorphosed out of the everyday.

Taylor, librettist Paul Carter and I crafted the work using improvisation and workshopping processes.  It was written for four singers, harp, trombone, pitched and non-pitched percussion, keyboards, sampler and six actors.

The music draws on many different styles of composition.  This is reflected in the contrasting fragments which  make up the whole.

"Actuality" sounds such as trucks, planes and insects are used musically alongside other more traditional instruments.

Part of the pleasure in creating Sabat Jesus was to orchestrate "real world" sounds alongside a number of orchestral instruments. I'm always struck with how all sounds, whether they occur naturally or are man-made, possess some kind of musicality. For Sabat Jesus, I tried to create resonating musical environments by discovering new and interesting sound combinations.


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