Australian composer James Ledger

Silver Swans
2012
18 mins
0.0.3(I=Eb,II,III=bcl).0-0.0.0.0-perc(1):4tom-t/Ped.BD/tamb/2bottles/susp.cym/sm tpl.bl/talking drum/MIDI kyb(using Ableton LIVE via laptop)-pft-strings(1.0.1.1.1)

Premiere: 18 November 2012
QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane
Southern Cross Soloists

Ancient legend has it that the mute swan remained completely silent throughout its lifetime only to sing a beautiful and mournful song the moment before it died. The term swan-song has since come to describe any last utterance or accomplishment. Schubert's song-cycle Schwanengesang published in the year of his death is a perfect example. Orlando Gibbon’s madrigal The Silver Swan refers back to myth and is an extremely poignant and witty setting of the story. I used the text from his madrigal as the basis for my piece Silver Swans. Gibbon's text is heard in its entirety in the final third movement entitled Mac the Swan. The percussionist also operates a laptop, triggering live playback of pre-recorded sounds. Here, the mechanically-cold and even creepy way the computer speaks brings into strong relief the poignancy of the text.

The first two movements were inspired by the poetry of W.B. Yeats. The first titled A Sudden Blow, is from the first line of his poem Leda and the Swan. This poem too refers back to Greek mythology: The god Zeus disguises himself as a swan and rapes the mortal Leda. The poem is full of disturbing yet magnificent and majestic images:
A SUDDEN blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs.

Similarly, the title of the second movement, Broken Rings, is taken from The Wild Swans at Coole. This poem is laden with beautiful autumnal images and also reflects Yeats' obsession with the passing of time. The music begins with a rapid three-note figure in the highest register of the piano that descends and accelerates. When it reaches the lowest register, the three-note figure is taken up by the trio of clarinets – depicting a herd of bugling swans. The movement closes out with a dialogue between manic piano and percussion against more reflective moments in the rest of the ensemble.

This piece has gone through several incarnations since first writing it in 2012. Some pieces have the tendency to come out sideways and this was certainly the case for me with Silver Swans.

Silver Swans was commissioned by the Etica Ensemble and the Southern Cross Soloists with support from the Australia Council fro the Arts.




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