Program notes

Distant Shore, opus 44 (1991)

A Distant Shore commenced as an idea for a collaborative project between Louis Nowra (librettist), Garrick Jones (baritone) and myself in 1987. Subsequent grants from the Australia Council Literature and Performing Arts Boards provided the means for its creation. It was originally conceived as a work which could be performed as either a song-cycle or in a staged music-theatre version scored for small ensemble and baritone and subsequently grew into the current version for small orchestra (consisting of three brass, harp, piano, percussion and strings) and baritone. Most of the music was composed in 1988 immediately after another large piece, the opera Black River. The lyrical and lush musical style of A Distant Shore was partly a reaction to the bruising directness of Black River; nonetheless, the works do share many thematic and structural similarities. The score was revised and another interlude added at the beginning of 1991.

Louis’ interests in the intermingled topics of the sea, desire, love and memory produced many rich associations for me. Hence, a number of my earlier works such as Sea-Change for piano and Sea Call for three brass are recalled and reworked in A Distant Shore to which they form a type of commentary; the composer is remembering as is the man portrayed in Nowra’s sensitive text. Memory is important on another level, the work is in 11 movements which apart from the song settings is made up of a prelude for brass and two orchestral interludes (the second is a reworking of the first, like deja vu). There is a continual transformation and overlapping of ideas framed by a strong sense of symmetrical arch shape with the deliberately sentimental sixth movement, Barcarole (scored only for baritone with prepared piano and percussion accompaniment), as a pivot. To further suggest the ideas of memory and time, use is made of off-stage brass in movements 7 – 9; the effect is meant to be like one of those strange fleeting memories that never seem to get further than the edge of memory but leave one with a bitter taste. This seemed an appropriate analogy for the internal drama of a man caught between past and present but now (as Nowra puts it), “mostly past”.

© Andrew Schultz, 1992