Program notes

Southern Cantata, opus 102 (2017)

  1. 1. ‘Listen now’ – Fast, energetic – Chorus
  2. 2. ‘A handful of thorns’ – Slow, freely – Soprano aria
  3. 3. ‘The moon drowned/Elegy’ – Gentle/Slower – Soprano and Tenor Duet
  4. 4. ‘After the storm’ – Gentle, pulsing – Chorus

Southern Cantata is a large-scale choral-vocal work in four movements and of about 28 minutes duration. The work is scored for soprano and tenor soloists, choir and early music orchestra consisting of trumpet, theorbo, harpsichord, organ, timpani and strings.  The work is a setting of a new text by Katherine Firth and was commissioned by St Johns Southgate, Melbourne to celebrate the twentieth year of their Bach Cantata series and the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. The first performance was directed by Graham Lieschke, the Music Director of St Johns Southgate in December 2017.

In her introduction to the work, the librettist Katherine Firth writes: “The composer, Andrew Schultz, a widely performed and recorded composer who has been a pioneer in Australian sacred and secular music, has drawn from a range of references and musical traditions (just as Bach and Luther did), from the Bach cantata ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’, the African-American gospel song ‘Down to the River to Pray’, Luther’s hymns, as well as a range of 20th and 21st century art and folk music traditions. I went back and listened to ‘Nun komm’ after the first time I heard the new setting, and I was struck by a range of echoes—the busy strings of the first moment, the undulations in ‘Komm, Jesu, komm’ that  echo in the waves in  ‘The Moon Drowns’; the pizzicato knocking in ‘Siehe, ich stehe vor der Tür’ that transmutes in ‘After the Storm’.”

“We hope that this cantata becomes a significant contribution to the ongoing, living tradition of the Lutheran cantata, but also to the developing Australian art music repertoire, where our colonial cultural inheritances are acknowledged (both wonderful and terrible), within a contemporary, self-confident and forward-looking culture. This growing repertoire depicts an Australian culture that acknowledges the traditional owners of the land, our multicultural heritage, the Australian climate and landscape, but also our cities, industrial developments and challenges for the future.”


  1. 1. Listen now

Who is that out on the desert highway –

Travelling across the sandy way?

See them come, the first people

Sing their songs of the land.


O, who will hear us sing?

Hear us sing, listen now.

O, who will hear us sing?

Hear us sing our song.

I see the ripples of fences and sheep

Rising up like dust behind the horses.

Here they ride, the white-capped fleet,

Good Lord, show them the way.


 Who is that out on the desert highway –

Travelling across the sandy way?

See the child and woman come?

Their words show us the way.


I see the prophet of plague and drought,

Locusts and honey in his wake.

He brings the orchards ripe with fruit,

He brings the rising sun.


 Who is that out on the desert highway?

As he walks the desert blooms beneath him.

See him bring the news of wine,

His hope summons the rain.



  1. 2. A handful of thorns

An armful of roses,
A handful of thorns,
A fistful of blood.

Where are you? My son, answer me!

My son–is lost.

Call out to me, come home and be found,
I plea with the angels, I plead with the Lord.

Come search with me, people, all people,
I plea with the angels, I plead with the Lord.

A handful of sunlight,
No armful of child,
A fistful of cloth.

Where are you?  Stay with me.

Are you safe? Will you return to me?

Rejoice with me; I have found what was lost.
Rejoice with the angels, rejoice with the Lord,

You have returned to me.

Rejoice with me people, my people together,
Rejoice with the angels, rejoice with the Lord.


  1. 3. The moon drowned

The moon drowned in the ocean,
A silver coin.
Is water safer than land?

The towering waters fall, the dinghy floods,
We swallow salt, we swallow blood.

A star arises in the morning,
A deep grey sky, and pre-dawn calm.

The wind calls. A child’s voice.
The waves on the wet sand found him
After the storm.


  1. 4. After the storm

Rest little soul, find your way home,

After the rain falls and the hot streets hush,

As the sky cools and the birds turn at dusk,

Quiet my soul, till daylight comes.

Sleep little soul, sleep little son.


Starlight makes a cradle bed,

Moon alight in silver fold.

Sun is rising, crowns his head,

Childish silk and royal gold.


Text of Southern Cantata is by Katherine Firth, copyright, 2017.


Here is a performance of an arrangement of Movement 3 of Southern Cantata called Elegy – The Moon Drowned in this version for soprano, viola and piano.


Excerpt from Southern Cantata, Movement 4, ‘After the storm,’ performed by Brisbane Chamber Choir and St John’s Camerata conducted by Graeme Morton at St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.