Paradise for soprano, cello and piano, opus 95 (2013)
- I. Suspended earth
- II. Safety glass
- III. Child, who are you?
- IV. Jigsaw
- V. Almost flight
Paradise is a cycle of five songs for soprano, cello and piano written for Felicitas Fuchs, Li-Wei Qin and Bernard Lanskey. They gave its first performance in June 2015 at La Loingtaine, Paris. Halcyon gave the Australian premiere in St Bede’s Church, Sydney shortly afterwards. The work’s duration is about 17 minutes and the texts are by the composer. Paradise was a laureate in both the National Art Music Awards and Paul Lowin Awards.
The work is a setting of my own texts in which a physician observer wrestles with the small-scale detail and the large-scale effect of an horrific and violent event. The concept of ‘paradise’ is interpreted in three ways in the work: the aloof beauty of the natural environment; the paradise of childhood, so often destroyed by adults; and, the faux paradise of religion.
For some time I have either been writing my own texts or quietly editing, translating and adapting pre-existing texts to suit my musical purposes. In choosing to write my own texts I have been attracted by the freedom and precision of expression this allows me to bring to my vocal music. This is partly because of the inevitable constraints that a text places on a composer but also because I am looking for a personal, specific and clear expression of ideas and that requires a high level of unity of artistic means.
In the case of Paradise the subject matter of the work’s texts is sensitive and tricky to pull off. The work occupies a similar creative space to my opera, Going Into Shadows, in the way it addresses callous violence and its traumatic aftermath in the contemporary world. Finding a nuanced way to deal with such confronting material is an artistic enigma for me as my aspiration is always a quest for beauty. As Emerson put it in his Journal, “Beauty can never be clutched: in persons & in nature is equally inaccessible.”
I. Suspended earth
The still, suspended earth
spreads dreams across the sky.
It has no answers.
Blue mist and green sea
stretch through horizons of dust.
They have no answers.
They cannot see.
They cannot hear.
Thick glass catches light
then flashes and flames.
A slow rumble through space
is a deep throb then gone.
Ask no questions.
It has no answers.
It cannot feel.
It cannot know.
II. Safety Glass
The shapes of dust caught in the light
are intricate and perfect hexagons.
Patterns of dust move up and down.
Who could have guessed the safety glass
as it hung suspended would fracture craze fall
to earth with shapes the same as dust.
Mobile lines in frozen patterns.
III. Child, who are you?
What is your name?
Wer sind sie? Wie ist dein name?
Chi sei? Qual’é il tuo nome?
Qui êtes-vous? – L’enfant perdu. Quel est votre nom?
Ya toufla, meen inti? Habibi, ma ismaki?
At last, a flicker in the eye but then it’s gone.
Now she’s gone.
The hexagons of dust and light
are tattooed on your body:
perfect shapes of red and blue
fit together on your chest, face and legs.
But your arm is torn off, jagged.
Flesh hangs, sinews, cords and bones –
sticky blood in pools.
Even if all the pieces were found there could be no repair.
One – side two
side three side
four side five
side six side
to make a
V. Almost flight
When you dreamed, as children often do,
of flying above the earth,
cool and still:
is this what you had in mind?
A sudden flight this one, without any choice
as the blast lifted you into glass
When he looked at your face
did he see you
or all those faces he hated?
© Andrew Schultz, 2013.