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Three Songs for...
Barren Grounds (1988)
for clarinet, viola, 'cello and piano
1. . . . this ground
2. The Twittering Machine
Barren Grounds is a wilderness reserve south of Sydney near the small
town of Jamberoo. Perched high on the escarpment overlooking the sea,
the landscape is strange and otherworldly: stunted growth and marshy ground
but teeming with life. It is a bird breeding ground, yet whilst the feeling
of the place is very still - almost suspended - the eerie surface conceals
a fecund underlife.
For me, the place (and especially its perplexing name) occupies a state
of mind and a way of seeing and it is this, rather than any deliberate
programmatic intention, which gives the piece its title. Like a number
of earlier works, Barren Grounds falls into two movements: slow, fast.
This approach to the division of the work's parts is only superficially
symmetrical as each movement is of quite different weight and purpose.
The first movement, ". . . this ground", is slow and lyrical
in a sinewy way. It is a reworking of an earlier vocal sketch - Seafarer
- the final line of which had the text: "And learn to sleep upon
this ground." These words, with their reference to mortality, provide
the key to the passacaglia form employed.
The second movement draws its title from Paul Klee's famous ornithological
automaton painting, The Twittering Machine (although, incidentally, it
should be added that the trails at Barren Grounds are known as Twittering
Paths!). Spinning out rhythmic fragments and employing a sort of mosaic
technique (where an idea takes on new meaning in a different context)
are recurrent preoccupations. The musical intention at times resembles
an ungainly machine that keeps running off the rails and then needs to
be wound up again.
Barren Grounds was the inaugural work commissioned by Perihelion (the
ensemble resident at the University of Queensland) and was composed with
financial assistance from the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council.
A recording is available on Perihelion's Compact Disc, Tapestry.
Short Version of Program Note
On the Illawarra escarpment overlooking the sea, Barren Grounds is a wilderness
reserve and bird breeding area. With a strange and otherworldly landscape
- stunted growth and marshy ground - the place feels still, yet the barren,
eerie surface conceals a fecund underlife. For me, the place occupies
a state of mind; this, rather than any programmatic intention, prompted
Movement 1, is a slow, lyrical and sinewy reworking of a vocal piece,
Seafarer whose final line: "And learn to sleep upon this ground",
with its reference to mortality, suggested the passacaglia form used.
Paul Klee's ornithological automaton painting, The Twittering Machine
gives Movement 2 its inspiration. The musical intention at times resembles
an ungainly machine that keeps running awry and needs to be wound-up again.
Spinning out rhythmic fragments and employing mosaic technique are recurrent
Perihelion commissioned the work with funding from the Performing Arts
Board, Australia Council.
Contact and Purchasing Links
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Tel: + 61-2-9247 4677
Tollfree: 1300 651 834
Fax: + 61-2-9241 2873
Buy CD recordings on line from Buywell
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