Two majestic pieces by Australian composer Ross Edwards are presented on this new album. Da pacem Domine is a prayer for peace, grounded in human ritual, whereas Star Chant reflects the eternal grandeur of the night sky and includes a chorus singing the names of the celestial features in various Aboriginal languages. Performed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with the Adelaide Chamber Singers and the Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus conducted by Richard Mills, both pieces will leave you contemplating the nature of our existence.
SYMPHONY NO. 1 (DA PACEM DOMINE) (1991)
Conceived and partly composed during the Gulf Crisis, the tone of the Symphony Da Pacem Domine is unremittingly sombre. As I worked on the score I began to think of it as a threnody for the gravely ill Stuart Challender, then Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, who died shortly after its completion and to whom it is dedicated.
A large, monolithic single movement, the Symphony evolves slowly and organically over a deep, insistent rhythmic pulse. It is thus, in effect, a sort of massive orchestral chant of quiet intensity into which my subjective feelings of grief and foreboding about some of the great threats to humanity: war, pestilence and environmental devastation, have been subsumed into the broader context of ritual. And although it is manifestly more architectonic than some of my other ‘contemplative’ music, the Symphony is designed to create a sense of timelessness associated with certain Oriental and Mediaeval Western musical genres. A hymn-like episode based on a fragment of the plainsong Da Pacem Domine (Give Peace, Lord) gives the work its title.
Symphony Da Pacem Domine was commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation with assistance from the Australia Council. The first performance was given in August 1992 by the West Australian Symphony conducted by Jorge Mester.
SYMPHONY NO. 4 “STAR CHANT” (2001)
To William Blake, the stars were coldly and logically Satanic. To the Australian Aboriginal Peoples they have been familiar,meaningful and ultimately benevolent. And indeed, to most cultures the night sky has always abounded in human drama and symbolism: the striking summertime constellation of Orion, for example, represented an intrepid hunter in many diverse societies. And the Pleiades - which the Greeks mythologized as seven sisters changed first into doves and then stars - have also received startlingly parallel interpretations in various parts of the world.
If anything can reconcile the human inhabitants of this planet, it may well be our eventual recognition that, under the canopy of the night sky we are all equal: how could egos that prance absurdly in the daylight fail to be awed and humbled by the magnificence of the stars - if it were not for the light pollution of our cities? David Malin’s poetic and in spiring photographic images, made using Australia’s largest telescopes, help compensate our naked eyes for their loss and present us with an embryonic mythology awaiting interpretation.
Australian artists and scientists are showing signs of wanting to reclaim the age-old common ground between their disciplines. In fact, ideas for Star Chant began to be seriously discussed when I accompanied a group of scientists - mainly astronomers - on a lecture tour of outback Queensland and New South Wales. I found the most memorable experience to be the night spent in a swag in the Simpson Desert contemplating the glittering display above.
Fred Watson’s elegantly-structured text traverses the Australian sky from the northern horizon to the lonely obscurity of the southern polar star. It pays tribute to aboriginal culture by linking the conventional western names of stars and constellations with their equivalents from the Dreamtime stories of many different indigenous peoples.
My original conception of Star Chant as a nocturne - a calm, profound meditation - changed into some of the most dramatic music I’ve written as the text led me through regions profuse with stars and Dreaming. When I arrived at the Southern Cross, my natural response to its symbolism was to try to express in music a hope for creative and harmonious coexistence between the culturally diverse peoples of the south. The work ends, as it began, in a mysterious glimmer low in the southern sky.
Star Chant is dedicated to my wife, Helen Edwards. It was commissioned jointly by Symphony Australia and the Adelaide Festival for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. The first performance was given in the Adelaide Town Hall on March 8 2002. Richard Mills conducted the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, the Adelaide Chamber Singers and the Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus.