Program notes

Calling Music (Contrafactum I) for orchestra, opus 39 (1989)


“The dead are buried in us. We dream them as they dreamed us and woke and found us flesh. Their bones rise through us. These are your eyes: you will see a new world through them….” (David Malouf, Elegy: The Absences. UQP, 1980.)

Surely everyone has at some time heard a distant voice caught on the wind – calling and disembodied, full of yearning. Something as simple as a mother calling to a child or more mysterious like a distant call of ‘coo-ee’ through a eucalypt forest.

Calling Music was composed in 1991-92 for The Hunter Orchestra with financial assistance from an Australia Council Composer Fellowship. The work is dedicated to Roland Peelman, the orchestra’s musical director.

The beautiful trio, “Soave sia il vento,” from Mozart’s opera, Cosi fan tutte, forms a starting – or rather, an ending – point for Calling Music. The text of that short piece is as follows: “Gentle be the breeze, calm be the waves, and every element smile in favour on their wish.” My piece makes a number of references to that tender part of the opera and the earlier cries of farewell: “Addio! Addio! Addio!.”

A ‘contrafactum’ is a vocal composition in which the original text is replaced by a new one; in this case the music is borrowed but without the voices – creating an absence or a gap.

“… You knew about absences. I am learning slowly how much space they occupy in any house I move to, any page – the white spaces no ink flows into, the black ones no breath flows out of, mouths. …” (David Malouf, Elegy: The Absences. UQP, 1980.)


Listen to a recent 2NUR-FM broadcast of the premiere performance of Calling Music, performed by The Hunter Orchestra conducted by Roland Peelman in Newcastle in 1992; starting at about the 20 minute mark in the April 22, 2022 broadcast below.

Hunter Rostrum