Dreams Go Wandering Still (2004)
This work is a musical reflection on the elegant and deceptively simple poem by seventeenth century Japanese Haiku master Matsuo Basho.
The English translation by Harold Henderson goes:
“On a journey, ill,
and over fields all withered, dreams
go wandering still.”
For the whole piece an oscillating figure in chords or trills echoes the withered or, in literal translation, “dried-up” fields.
The journey is established by the horns and brass, moves to tutti cellos, then cor anglais and flute, climaxing — “taking ill” — with the trumpets and trombones. The texture becomes more individual with a section for two solo cellos and solo bassoons. The journey continues more urgently with spiccato strings moving via frantic energy to a gesture of assertion in the full orchestra. The music returns to the nostalgic and the individual, this time through four solo violins.
Throughout the work are the wandering (“running-about”) dreams: in the splashes of woodwind, harp, and percussion and in the aspiration of the solo voices, especially at the end reaching high and never-ending into silence.
Dreams Go Wandering Still is dedicated with great affection and thanks to my teacher, mentor, musical confident, guide to Japan and dear friend, Peter Sculthorpe.
This work was commissioned by the Australian Youth Orchestra for international Australian harpist Alice Giles to perform on its North and South American tour.
Responding to Giles’ willingness to explore the extended range of sounds possible on the harp this piece is full of innovative and strange sounds. Moreover 15 strings of the instrument are retuned to enable a melodic and harmonic pallet not normally possible on the pedal harp.
At its first performance the piece was described as “impressionistic….even recalling Debussy’s Nuages (Clouds) in its delicate, leisurely shifts of colour and outline”.
The work is in two movements that are played without break and is about 20 minutes in duration.
String Quartet 2 (1999)
For me, chamber music is often about personalities, musical or otherwise. This is particularly true of the String Quartet. While the four instruments together are regarded by many as the pinnacle of blend and match, the ensemble is also capable of great contrasts, and is easily able to create multiple strands, expressing very different musical gestures simultaneously.
Here is an opportunity to explore, through four simultaneous voices, a number of the things that have preoccupied me for much of my creative life: the characteristics that make us “Australian”. For me this involves three notions; the way we contemplate and react to both urban and country landscapes; the struggle between individual and environment; the quest for identity through isolation and sentiment.
So during the composition of this work I thought of the music as a discussion or argument about being Australian, even flirted with the idea that the piece could be subtitled “the meeting”. For at one level, the piece is a meeting of four personalities, each reflecting an Australian set of attitudes, behavior, emotional make-up, age and even location.
Mostly, the personalities reside in their own instrument but each takes on some of the characteristics of the others as the encounter unfolds.
The work is in six sections, each opening with a similar gesture.
Section 1. Opening encounters, exposure of the material, some clashes, some accommodation, unity and diversity expressed.
Section 4. Viola. Elusive, fast, a leader of a tight flashing ensemble. Capable of transformation, but sometimes too skittish, changeable. Full of color. Memories of the outback. A person in their prime!
Section 2. First Violin dominates. Nostalgic, sentimental, innocent, even naive, but beguiling and wins many friends. Loves atmosphere, reaches out, aspires. New to the city. A maturing person.
Section 5. Cello. Passionate, brooding, even surly. Overpowering, sometimes dark and impenetrable, tending to melancholy. The forests, rich in texture and implication. Dusk.
A person towards the end of life.
Section 3. Second Violin. Insistent, simple, basic, energetic, aggressive. Excites and colonises. Often not very much to say, but allows others to develop and bring out ideas and feelings. Dramatic and somehow tropical. A young person.
Section 6. Final statements, recollections. A common theme within the diversity.
© Barry Conyngham 2023