Program notes

I am writing in this book, Opus 88 (2011)

  1. 1. A gift of paper
  2. 2. Secret meetings
  3. 3. Language of women
  4. 4. I see the word ‘storm’
  5. 5. It is getting dark

I am writing in this book was composed in 2011 and was commissioned by Halcyon, who gave its first performance at the Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music on 18th September 2011. The work is about 17 minutes duration and is made up of settings of five songs in English on texts from the tenth century The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon adapted by the composer. The scoring of the work is for soprano, mezzo-soprano, cello, double bass, percussion, harp and piano and was written in close collaboration with Halcyon’s singers, Alison Morgan and Jenny Duck- Chong, with the assistance of an Artist Residency from the Bundanon Trust.

In developing the work I have been interested in some of the timeless ideas and contradictions in Shonagon’s famous Japanese text. Self-conscious female allure contrasted with powerlessness and anger, the malevolent and liberating force of language, and the sensual and material world sitting in contrast to the artist’s inner life. The Pillow Book consists of a diary of anecdotes, often quite quirky and poetic lists, and contemporary literary accounts written over a period of many years. The diary was written on paper given to Shonagon by the Empress in whose court she served. As a diarist, Shonagon seems to exemplify the artist’s continual paradox – wanting artistic privacy but working in a form that is inherently destined to be public. So it is not surprising that many have been drawn to her work over the centuries and seen in it a mirror for the contemporary world as well as a unique insight into feudal Japan.

My work charts Shonagon’s growth as a woman and a diarist from enthusiastic and naïve in the first song, through three songs that show her world and range of interests, to a final song steeped in the bitterness and dissolution of old age. The texts for the songs are in some cases overlapping combinations of different parts of the original.

© Andrew Schultz, 2011

Texts by Sei Shonagon adapted by Andrew Schultz


  1. 1. A gift of paper

Write in this book –

Things that I see

Things that I hear and know.

Lingering days

Holding this brush,

Never knowing others would see.

Endless pages.


Kept in my pillow

Safely from view.

Private, hidden.

He found the book

I fought, he took it.

My pages for no-one, only for me.

Fill every page.


Words that amuse,

Delight, distress.

They have no point.

Thoughts that offend,

Thoughts that exceed,

Are best to conceal.

But now they have been revealed.

Her gift to me.


  1. 2. Secret Meetings

Soft assignations in the summer.

Even though the night is cut short

By the sunlight spreading, before we have any sleep.

All the doors wide open – feel the breezes from the garden.


Hear on moonless nights the whispers moving through the garden.

Starlit nights delight me, and the lovely moon at daybreak,

Words can never catch the wonder of the dawn-lit moon.

In the seventh month the heat is painful.


Then in time there comes the parting.

Lovers try to end their talking,

Lovers try to finish all the small things that remain,

Chiding, teasing, laughing,

As the dawn grows brighter.


Noises, voices, heard from outside.

Startled, frightened by a loud cry from beyond the doorway,

For brief moments they feel certain that they have been seen, discovered.

Was it maybe just a bird, whose caw they heard, as it flew by?

Each note it sang was softer and more distant.


But on cold nights, echoes from the far-off bells can seem so strange –

They seem as if their sound comes from the deepest well.

Odd too, a crow’s first call, sounding so muted and faraway.


  1. 3. Language of women

Language of priests.

Language of men.

Common people add too many words when they talk.

Language of women.

River, deep river,

Mountain tombs,


Devil bush.

Burning fireball comets,

Heavy rusty iron,


Demon vine.


Revolting things,

Squalid, horrid:

Inside a feline ear.

Baby mice who have no hair.

Unlined robes with open seams.

Darkness in a filthy place.

Ugly woman with a brood.

Lots of children.

Not just the word – the sound of thunder!



Billowing, luminous, ominous clouds!

Hail, snow, sleet!

White snivel is hideous in every way.

Rats nest.

Murderous monks.

Roasted, toasted, blasted cinders,

Bull spirit,

Claw hook grapnel.


  1. 4. I see the word ‘storm’


a typhoon,

an autumn wind.


Great trees have gone,

huge branches torn,

lying there on earth.


Small leaves are stuck

in every space of lattice

and bamboo woven fence.


So intricate,

imagine this,

it was the storm that placed each there.


And now a sight, a woman

most exquisite, most dignified –

a purple robe with tawny cloth.


A sleepless night,

tossed by the wind,

her hair now hangs.


She kneels to see,

she gazes up,

all disarray she sees.


She wears brocade and gazes up:

“I now know why the word for ‘storm’

is written as the ‘mountain wind’.


So autumn’s trees bend and fall

with the force of this great wind

from the mountains.”


  1. 5. It is getting dark

I am old and barely live.

Nothing left of me but bones.

If to you who visit:

There were once great horses

‘She must be at home’

So fast

But am not,

Their bones can still be bought.

Though here,

Will you buy my bones?

I ask myself if I am I.