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Dances with devils : Concerto for percussion and orchestra

by Iain Grandage (2015)

Work Overview

The Australian Bush - that great mythic landscape - has always held a particular grasp on the psyche of white Australians. It is the great unknown - beyond the realms of our control, and source of many subliminal fears. Indigenous Australians are more than aware of the power and mystery held within the earth, but those are not my stories to tell or my songs to sing. This work is instead a response to a series of short stories that reside within the Australian Gothic literary tradition of the 19th century, a tradition where the tropes of the old world - ghosts, spectres, haunted houses and mythological beasts, were transposed and transformed into events and situations that had particular resonance with the Australian colonial experience.

The opening movement of Dances with Devils revolves around Barbara Baynton's Chosen Vessel. This concise masterwork tells of the terror of a young woman one twilight, who is dreading the return of a swagman to her isolated hut. On hearing a passing horse, she mistakes it for a saviour. However, the passing rider is a young religious man who mistakes her for a ghost in her flowing nightgown, with her cries of "For Christ's Sake", and refuses to stop. She falls victim to the lurking swagman. The movement features the Marimba and is dominated by triplet rhythms redolent of horse hooves.

The second movement is a subdued Sarabande, based on Edward Dyson's Conquering Bush, a story in which a woman, unable to cope with the searing, incessant noise of the birds around her bush home chooses a drowning death for her and her child instead. It features series of instruments being transformed in pitch and timbre by water. The third movement is a traditional scherzo, launching from a moment within Henry Lawson's famous story The Drover's Wife where the principal female character dreams of a different life, far from the bush. This is juxtaposed with harsher sections that reflect the reality of her current situation - namely staying awake all night in a bush hut, awaiting a snake's reappearance.

The final movement provides a moment of hope amongst the gothic landscape. It is a Tarantella inspired by Lola Montez, whose famed Spider Dance was the talk of the goldfields when she toured Australia in the 1850s.

I am indebted to Claire Edwardes for all she has brought to this collaboration. Claire's energy, virtuosity and musical competence redresses the seemingly impossible imbalance between a solitary soloist and the massed forces of a symphony orchestra that is inherent within the concerto format. She stands strong against that conquering noise and casts doubt and darkness aside. I love her for it.

Work Details

Year: 2015

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling cor anglais), 2 clarinet in B flat (2nd doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (2nd doubling contra-bassoon), 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B flat, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (2 players), harp, strings (

Duration: 24 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Contents note: 1. The Chosen Vessel -- 2. The Conquering Bush -- 3. The Drover's Wife -- 4. Lola Montez.

Commission note: Commissioned by Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

First performance: by Claire Edwardes, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Northey at Grandage, Ravel, Sibelius (Costa Hall) on 17 Jul 2015


Performances of this work

9 Apr 2021: at WASO: Dances, Devils and Arabian Nights (Perth Concert Hall). Featuring Claire Edwardes, Benjamin Northey, West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

24 Jul 2015: at TSO: Fast and Furious (Federation Concert Hall, Hobart). Featuring Claire Edwardes, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas Carter.

18 Jul 2015: at MSO: Ravel, Sibelius, Grandage (Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne). Featuring Claire Edwardes, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Northey.

17 Jul 2015: at Grandage, Ravel, Sibelius (Costa Hall). Featuring Claire Edwardes, Benjamin Northey, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

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