String quartet no. 3 : Summer dances : string quartet
by Ross Edwards (2012)
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Many years ago, when I was living in a coastal village north of Sydney, I made a habit of walking each morning on the local fire trail before starting the day's work. In spring and summer the bush was alive with myriad sounds of bird and insect life which gradually began to influence the rhythmic and melodic shapes of my music. A solo insect voice once sparked off an entire string quartet, and thirty years later I joyfully reclaimed material from this early work, refining its details and compressing them into an ecstatic, chant-like continuum outside linear time. This movement, the second, I've titled 'Fire Trail'. It seemed fitting to preface it with a brief reference to my setting - in a song cycle, Five Senses (2012) - of Judith Wright's poem The Forest: 'When first I knew this forest its flowers were strange…' On the Warrah Fire Trail, all those years ago, I experienced at first hand the strangeness of the Australian bush and found my musical voice.
In music, drones are universal: to me they represent the earth. I've always found the drones produced by cicadas and other insects entrancing, as though pregnant with secret meaning that lies just beyond human understanding. The third movement, a sombre, interior nocturne, elaborates a melodic line that floats above and sometimes interfuses with a composite drone. It concludes with a restatement of the song-like introduction to the quartet.
The fourth movement, Lotus Dance, rekindles my obsession with the universal symbol of an Earth Mother, nurturer and protector of the environment. As in my saxophone concerto, Full Moon Dances (2011), the Virgin Mary and the graceful South East Asian goddess of compassion, Guan-Yin, join in calm contemplation of the world's suffering and the crisis of the environment. This gentle dance, which blooms out of a fragment of mediaeval European plainsong, gradually acquires wider cultural associations. It persists, just audibly, into a central episode of ardent supplication before resuming its tranquil course.
The fifth and final movement ritualizes the shrill voices of summer into vigorous patterns. The impression is of a fragment detached from an ecstatic dance - an age-old ceremony performed in many cultures to promote and celebrate mystical union with the earth.
Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello.
Duration: 18 min.
Contents note: 1. Introduction: Forest I -- 2. Fire Trail -- 3. Nocturne: Forest II -- 4. Lotus Dance -- 5. Ecstatic Dance.
Dedication note: Dedicated to Ken Tribe
Performances of this work
11 Apr 2015: at Concert 4 (Verbrugghen Hall).
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