Program notes

Dead Songs for soprano, clarinet, cello, and piano, opus 45 (1991)


Dead Songs was composed in June 1991 and consists of settings of texts adapted from epitaphs collected from New South Wales seaside cemeteries at Wombarra, Bulli, South Head and Waverley. Many of the texts are combinations of several different epitaphs (such as in 1, 4 and 8) and in some cases graffiti, or other found texts, that made a useful connection have found their way into the work. It was the simplicity of expression, the occasional unintentional humour and even the heartfelt Australian mawkishness of the texts that attracted me to them as sources for a song cycle. The work is laid out quite formally and with some musical references, for example to Schubert’s demonic transportation in 4, to Bach in 8 and Josquin in 9.

If there is a metaphor in the work as a whole it can be seen most clearly in the last song. Taken from several decrepit headstones, the text misses the end of most lines and in my setting is left that way – as a kind of floundering expression in the face of bigger obstacles. The analogy here relates to the physical position of the cemeteries as best exemplified by Wombarra with its neat denominational arrangement of the dead seeming somehow insignificant against the slow motion oblivion of sea and wind tearing away at the crumbling cliff edges.

  1. 1. Buried at Sea

Gently his voice calleth

Come and rest.

The midnight stars are shining upon his silent grave,

Where sleepeth without dreaming the one we could not save.

Love knows no death,

Spirits meet across the bridge.

  1. 2. His Dust

Gone are the faces we loved so dear

Silent the voices, we loved to hear

Far, too far, from sight or speech,

But not too far for our thoughts to reach.

Anchored by love, death cannot sear.

Oh! How we miss them, and will do for ever.

  1. 3. And Underneath are the Everlasting Arms

clarinet and piano

  1. 4. Ahead of His Time: Little Jackie, Killed by a Taxi Cab, 1911

Our little treasure

Our little joy.

“Here I am where I want to be

In the Haven under the Hill.”

Our little sunbeam

Our darling boy.

“Here I am where I want to be

In the Haven under the Hill.”

Mummie and Daddy’s Pal.

  1. 5. Dead Devils [open book with graffiti]

clarinet, ‘cello and piano

  1. 6. Agnus Dei

A few weeks of joy

A lifetime of memories.

He shall gather the lambs in his arms and

Carry them in his bosom.

  1. 7. The Tahiti-Greycliffe Disaster, Sydney Harbour, 1927
  1. 6. Agnus Dei

It seems but a day since he bade us goodbye

His heart full of hope and his spirit so high

How little we thought when he left us that day

The grim hand of death would soon tear him away

So gentle and kind – how we miss his dear face

Now we know that on earth we can ne’er fill his place

Tho’ asleep in the saviour, where grief is unknown

In sorrow and tears are his loved ones at home.

  1. 8. Peace Perfect Peace

Father and mother safe in the vale

Watch for the boatman, wait for the sail,

Bearing the loved ones over the tide

Into the harbour, near to their side.

“Master Mariner – Dead At Sea.”

  1. 9. Unreconstructed Sentiment [Crumbled Deploration]

Sadly . . .

A sudden change at God’s . . .

He had not time to . . .

A little longer . . .

. . . we too shall leave,

Oh loved one

A little while longer . . .

. . . we too shall leave,

For that beautiful shore.

We pray that . . .

. . . with the angels now.

© Andrew Schultz, 1991


 

‘Little Jackie’ (1910). Standing, second from the right, his epitaph formed the basis of the fourth song in Dead Songs. Photo courtesy of the McGoldrick family.


Download the texts of Dead Songs in a powerpoint slideshow – suitable for performance use. (Slides by Stephen Emmerson)


The YouTube videos below are of the smaller version of Dead Songs known as Four Songs from Dead Songs and scored for soprano and piano.