Program notes

Paradise for soprano, cello and piano, opus 95 (2013)

  1. 1. Suspended earth
  2. 2. Safety glass
  3. 3. Child, who are you?
  4. 4. Jigsaw
  5. 5. 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 Australia premiere shortly afterwards in September 2015. The work is a setting of the composer’s 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. This work occupies a similar creative space to my opera, Going Into Shadows, in the way it addresses brutal violence and its aftermath in the contemporary world. Finding a way to deal with this material is an artistic challenge that is very important to me so I’m very grateful for the support of two groups of wonderful performers.

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.

Rough-edged hexagons.

 

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.

 

IV. Jigsaw

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

hexagon.

 

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

and beyond.

When he looked at your face

did he see you

or all those faces he hated?

© Andrew Schultz, 2013.