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The Beginning & the end of the snow : an epic song cycle for soprano & boutique orchestra

by David Chisholm (2007)

Work Overview

The Beginning and the End of the Snow is a mise-en-musique of Yves Bonnefoy's 1991 poetry cycle Debut et fin de la neige for Dramatic Soprano and boutique orchestra of virtuosi musicians. The setting of a celebrated epic French poem by an Australian composer was a deliberate choice to position the song cycle as a post-colonial 'text'. My ambition was to create a work that transformed the reflective, exquisite diaristic aspects of the words, into a tableau vivant that played with the spectres of European musical heritage. The musical charter of the work toys with the very essence of colonialism, (where 'signs' are imposed onto landscapes foreign and distant), making informed subtle references to many canonical French composers while never descending to mere pastiche. This approach to composition is a foundation of my practise, heavily influenced by writers such as Michel Foucault, Marc Augé and Harold Bloom. European antecedence in Australian music remains a curiously problematic site, but one that preoccupies my thoughts, and therefore work. French also has the double 'other' function in an Australian cultural setting.

Work Details

Year: 2007

Instrumentation: Soprano, clarinet in B flat (doubling bass clarinet in B flat), harp, viola, cello, piano/harpsichord/celeste. Conductor required.

Difficulty: Advanced — Professional.

Dedication note: Dedicated to Miriam Gordon-Stewart

Commission note: Commissioned with funds provided by Sidney Myer Foundation, Robert Salzer Foundation, Arts Victoria, Australia Council.. Written and premiered with the financial support of Arts Victoria, Australia Council, The Robert Salzer Foundation, Sidney Myer Fund, CIty of Melbourne and the Republique Française and Alliance Française.

First performance: by Miriam Gordon-Stewart, Richard Haynes, Alice Giles, Ceridwen Davies, Caerwen Martin, Peter Dumsday, Timothy Phillips — 2 Aug 07. Melbourne

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for/to
2009 Paul Lowin Song Cycle Prize Highly Commended David Chisholm


Article: Shining images score sound tribute
Peter Craven — © John Fairfax Holdings Limited
Source: The Age, 28 July 2007

Resonate article: The Beginning and the End of Snow by Joel Crotty


Performances of this work

4 Sep 2012: at Chamber View T(w)oo! (Melbourne Recital Centre, Primrose Potter Salon). Featuring Arcko Symphonic Ensemble.

8 Dec 2010: at Quiver and Aria Co. (Melbourne Recital Centre, Primrose Potter Salon).

2 Aug 07: Melbourne. Featuring Alice Giles, Ceridwen Davies, Miriam Gordon-Stewart, Peter Dumsday, Timothy Phillips, Caerwen Martin, Richard Haynes.

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My favourite Australian art song repertoire

Posted by Australian Music Centre on 22 July, 2013

The AMC asked leading practitioners to select their favourite Australian art song repertoire, to provide delegates to the 2013 International Conference of Vocal Teachers (Brisbane 2013) with an introduction to this rich and diverse landscape.
This is a work for soprano and small ensemble (viola, cello, clarinet, harp, celeste, piano and harpsichord) that sets French poetry by Yves Bonnefoy. The complete cycle is a 70 minute epic that requires a singer of extreme stamina, but the 16 shorter and 4 longer songs can be performed alone or in combination to provide a number of alternative entry points. The vocal line is always lyrical and is employed in different tessitura and linear characters throughout the cycle. The composer creates striking effects with the contour and rhythmic characters of the soprano line which ranges from soaring bel canto to richly detailed filigree. The four longest songs are for the full ensemble (more or less), but the preceding movements are usually for smaller combinations, including at least one duet for the vocalist and each instrument featured. It is quite possible, and effective, to perform excerpts from this work with smaller instrumental forces.
Jessica Aszodi