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I am writing in this book, Opus 88 (2011)

  1. A gift of paper
  2. Secret meetings
  3. Language of women
  4. I see the word ‘storm’
  5. It is getting dark

I am writing in this book was composed in 2011 and was commissioned by Halcyon, who gave its first performance at the Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music on 18th September 2011. The work is about 17 minutes duration and is made up of settings of five songs in English on texts from the tenth century The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon adapted by the composer. The scoring of the work is for soprano, mezzo-soprano, cello, double bass, percussion, harp and piano and was written in close collaboration with Halcyon’s singers, Alison Morgan and Jenny Duck- Chong, with the assistance of an Artist Residency from the Bundanon Trust.

In developing the work I have been interested in some of the timeless ideas and contradictions in Shonagon’s famous Japanese text. Self-conscious female allure contrasted with powerlessness and anger, the malevolent and liberating force of language, and the sensual and material world sitting in contrast to the artist’s inner life. The Pillow Book consists of a diary of anecdotes, often quite quirky and poetic lists, and contemporary literary accounts written over a period of many years. The diary was written on paper given to Shonagon by the Empress in whose court she served. As a diarist, Shonagon seems to exemplify the artist’s continual paradox – wanting artistic privacy but working in a form that is inherently destined to be public. So it is not surprising that many have been drawn to her work over the centuries and seen in it a mirror for the contemporary world as well as a unique insight into feudal Japan.

My work charts Shonagon’s growth as a woman and a diarist from enthusiastic and naïve in the first song, through three songs that show her world and range of interests, to a final song steeped in the bitterness and dissolution of old age. The texts for the songs are in some cases overlapping combinations of different parts of the original.

c. Andrew Schultz, 2011



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