Program notes

Dark Well, opus 107 (2019)

“The well bottom is like the bottom of the sea. They possess the light, while I am in the process of losing it.”

Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.


In this work for two pianos, the Dark Well of the title refers both to a physical place and a mental state. This large-scale work explores darkness and emotion, the margins of hearing, and the borderlands of perception and the unconscious. The physical place is a dry and disused well – mysterious, deep and forbidding from the surface. It is difficult to enter the well alone but impossible to leave without someone to assist. The well is without water but there are other things at the bottom nonetheless and we slowly become aware of them as we adjust to the absence of light: rocks and dirt, lost toys, discarded objects, hardy weeds, insects, and the bones of humans and animals.


“God! what darkness this! What terrifying silence!”

Beethoven, Fidelio∶ Act II, Scene I.


Dark Well, opus 107 (2019-20) is an immersive site-specific composition of about 60 minutes duration for two pianos which can be performed in three different versions.

Version 1 is for two pianos alone and consists of only two movements, called Cylinder Harmony and Round Water with a total duration of about 55 minutes. In this version, stage lighting should be as dim as possible and the performers may prefer to play from tablets/iPads or from paper scores with sconces for lighting. Innovative, in-the-round, audience layout is encouraged with the idea of creating a reflective but engaged meditative space.

Version 2 adds audio-visual projections, lighting and simple staging and has the same two movements and duration as Version 1. The video projections can be devised anew for the performance or can use those already created in collaboration with artist, Alyssa Rothwell and video editor, Martin Fox.

Version 3 of Dark Well adds live digital audio transformations and amplification to version 2 and incorporates two short, additional pre-recorded movements, Piano Drum 1 and Piano Drum 2. The duration in version 3 is roughly 60 minutes. The pre-recorded movements are audio manipulations of percussive extended piano sounds.

The four movements of the complete work in total are as follows.

  1. 1. Cylinder Harmony
  2. 2. Piano Drum 1
  3. 3. Round Water
  4. 4. Piano Drum 2

The work is dedicated to the pianists Sonya Lifschitz and Stephen Emmerson and was commissioned with funds and a residency provided by the Australia Council and the Ukaria Arts Centre. The composition of the work was originally sketched in 2019 at the Résidence Mont Blanc – a nineteenth century building in Chamonix with a forbidding but superbly dark and inspiring basement! The European premiere of the work was given by Kateřina Ochmanová and Martin Smutný as part of the Opera Schrattenbach 2023 Festival in Czechia.


“A barefoot child on the cool boards of a house

I left decades ago, I pause and hear

your footfall on the landing. Is that you

son? I dare not answer. If I went and stood

in the dark well looking up, would you be there?”

Malouf, Elegy: The Absences.




© Andrew Schultz, 2020/23