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Cloud Burning (1986)

Cloud Burning is a highly charged evocation of the surreal Queensland night sky during an electrical storm and takes its title from a poem by David Malouf.

'You balloon above me, a big cloud burning with breath; a coolness settles on my skin.'

[David Malouf, Elegy: The Absences (UQP, 1980).]

The work is scored for winds, brass and percussion and was commissioned, with assistance from the Australia Council, by the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra for their tenth anniversary in 1986.

The poetry of David Malouf has been quite a strong creative influence on me. In particular, his collection of verses from the early 1980s First Things Last - an anthology full of beautiful renderings of Queensland and Tuscany - has been a recurrent source of inspiration. Cloud Burning takes its title from a poem in that collection.

'You balloon above me, a big cloud burning with breath; a coolness settles on my skin.'

[David Malouf, Elegy: The Absences (UQP, 1980).]

At the time of writing Cloud Burning I was living in London and this image of Malouf's triggered quite strong recollections of the violent corruscations of the Brisbane night sky during an electrical storm and also - perhaps ironically - seemed an apt description of some of Turner's outrageously livid paintings of sky with which I had just become familiar first-hand. Malouf's image is also about inner landscapes and the landscape of my piece is more internal than descriptive.

The work is formed from the rhythmic exploration of a series of chords which function thematically as quite distinct and separate motifs. The shape of the work is a gradual accumulation of energy followed by an expansive 'arrival' - a shape that I employed on a larger scale in my opera Black River. The work is scored for winds, brass and percussion and was commissioned, with assistance from the Australia Council, by the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra for their tenth anniversary in 1986.

 

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