Program notes

Devil’s Music (Contrafactum II) for orchestra, opus 46 (1992)


  1. 1. The Gap
  2. 2. Enchantment
  3. 3. Orsanmichele with Busker
  4. 4. …durch Sturm und Wind
  5. 5. Constellations
  6. 6. Burlesque
  7. 7. Chimera
  8. 8. O tu angelica socia . . .

The eight sections of The Devil’s Music should be seen more as signposts than movements in the conventional sense.

There are confusing collisions which can in themselves be moments of the utmost clarity. Very often these moments consist of irreconcilable synchronicities, such as standing in the alley outside Orsanmichele in Florence with the church’s three crazy tiny bells (one cracked) drowning out a flute playing busker (the bells are going nowhere, the busker is moving on) and the worrying chatter of thirty Year 12 Australian private school girls ‘come to see the centre’. (Perhaps the Australian condition is one of eternal tourism. When do we arrive?) This sort of cultural contradiction is inspirational for me. More and more my music has been influenced by cinema with its capacity for complex interleaving of stories, epigrammatic and discontinuous structures and blurring of past, present and future.

To set the scene for The Devil’s Music a little more:

Contrafactum is an old term – meaning to put new words to an old song. I use it because it describes a principle in some of my music. Namely, that of reusing material by starting with an earlier piece and grafting on new layers and making old structures bend to the whim of new invention. This guarantees a sort of continuity in the work whilst allowing new ideas to evolve. In this piece most of the old material is from my earlier work (some of which, in turn, was based on other things) with other allusions as much textual as musical – “durch Sturm und Wind” to Goethe’s Erlkönig (“Who rides so late through the night and the wind? It is the father with his child;”) and “O tu angelica socia . . .” to Hildegard of Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum (“Angelic comrade, how comely you are in the royal nuptials! I cover over, drive away or tread down all the filths of the Devil. Yours is a part in the building of heavenly Jerusalem flowering among shining lilies.”)

Every idea in The Devil’s Music is either moving towards or away from the listener. At various times the listener is on a wild roller-coaster ride or at the centre of a constellation of spinning satellites. The musical characters are like satellites that keep spinning, even when out of sight.

There are a few sounds that keep returning over and over: an immobile stationery structure – like rocks – with a surface – like water – running over it. Various source objects float through the piece: the sound of distant sirens, the beating of wings, the rumble of distant engines, calls and groans, half remembered hymns, and the wind-borne sound of bells.

Music that is devoid of large-scale harmonic motion has become dull for me. Two of the greatest strengths of Western music (and the two most difficult to meld with various Asian musics) are the expressive power that comes from moving from one chord to another and the capacity to lay out a large architectural structure with pitch centres. The question then is how to recapture that expressive force and that great grinding down of formal shape without going backwards.

For quite a while I have forced myself to stretch out ideas but that has begun to feel boring. Why should you eat the vegetables when desert looks so good. The piano Preludes of Scriabin (the other side of the coin to Webern) are a model in this – some are as short as 30 seconds but seem to contain the symphonic force of works 50 times as long. The Devil’s Music is not so much episodic as like being in a hall of mirrors – what is real and what is reflection can become such a paradox that you touch yourself to see if you – indeed – are real or a chimera.

I am fascinated by the power of music; it effects me physically, emotionally, intellectually – in every way. Philosophers, composers, musicians have always known of this power – music has the power to possess the listener; to possess and enthral. In spite of all the developments of technique and idea for composers since World War Two nothing has changed about that sort of power and beauty.

© Andrew Schultz, 1992