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Songs for the Shadowland : for soprano, wind quartet and piano

by Paul Stanhope (1999)

Score Sample

View a sample of the score of this work

Audio Sample

Performance by Margaret Schindler, Southern Cross Soloists from the CD Songs for the shadowland

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Songs for the shadowland


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Songs for the shadowland : vocal music / by Paul Stanhope.

Library shelf no. CD 2089 [Available for loan]

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Work Overview

In Songs for the Shadowland I have set three mourning poems by indigenous Australian poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal: Tree Grave, Song and Dawn Wail for the Dead. These mourning poems are both deeply moving and also full of other resonances to do with the poet's Aboriginality. The poems give us an insight into the extraordinary importance placed by Aboriginal cultures on ancestry and respect for the dead. The allusions to a funeral ceremony in Tree Grave is a reminder of the profound cultural expression inherent in traditional indigenous mortuary rites.

In all three texts the poet manages to express with remarkable subtlety and understatement of emotion the devastation at the loss of loved ones, suggesting also the deep hurt caused by the onslaught of European colonisation. Despite the sombre quality of the deeply felt word images, the poet finds moments of optimism which seem triumphant against the backdrop of sadness. The poet's restraint of language and use of simple forms makes these statements all the more powerful.

A wailing horn interlude between the 2nd and 3rd songs functions as pond of reflection and musical commentary. It also plants seeds for musical ideas that follow in the third song. In this horn solo, natural harmonics and weeping glissandi act as a kind of ritual wailing which suggest the subject of the final poem. Although the echo of the wailing horn reminds us of past sorrow, it seems to me that Oodgeroo's own optimism for the "new day calling" has extra resonance now that, finally, a new Federal Government has started the healing process through the apology to the Stolen Generations.

Work Details

Year: 1999

Instrumentation: Soprano, oboe, clarinet in B flat, bassoon, horn in F, piano.

Duration: 15 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Contents note: 1. Tree grave -- 2. Song --  Interlude -- 3. Dawn wail for the dead.

Commission note: Commissioned by Queensland Biennial Festival.

First performance: by Southern Cross Soloists — 18 Jul 99. Queensland Art Gallery

Permission to be gained from Jacaranda Wiley Press before performing this work.

The second movement “Song” was added in 2001.


Performances of this work

18 Oct 2016: at Songs for the Shadowland (Salle Philharmonique, Liège (Philharmonic Room of Liège)). Featuring Sophie Karthäuser.

20 Jul 2015: at Mahler's Fourth - Omega Ensemble (City Recital Hall). Featuring Jane Sheldon, Omega Ensemble.

27 Jun 2012: at Lunchtime concert: Andy Morton (St James' Church (King Street)). Featuring Melissa Woodroffe, Tony Legge, Shefali Pryor, Sharn McIver, Rowena Watts, Paul Stanhope, Andy Morton.

21 Jun 2011: at ANAM: Second Breath (Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM)). Featuring Musicians of the National Academy of Music, Margaret Schindler.

7 Aug 09: featuring Southern Cross Soloists.

6 Aug 2009: at French Plus One (Townsville Civic Theatre). Featuring Southern Cross Soloists.

18 Jul 99: Queensland Art Gallery. Featuring Southern Cross Soloists.

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