2(I,II=afl,II=picc).2(II=corA).2(I,II=bcl).2-2.2.btrbn.0-timp(=tamb/chin.cym/tpl.bl/BD).perc(1):vib/tom-t/tgl/wdbl/SD/talking dr/BD/susp.cym/chin.cym/tam-t/maracas/whip/glsp/crot-harp-strings(min.10.8.6.4.2; 3vlnII also play water gongs and susp.cym; 2vlnII also play bowed crot)
Shadow Music was commissioned by Symphony Australia for Markus Stenz and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for performances both in Melbourne and on tour through regional Victoria. The premiere at the 2002 Metropolis Festival marks the beginning of a further development of my ongoing association with the MSO entitled "Artist in Residence".
It is scored for what could be referred to as a classical-sized orchestra, being similar to that used during the late classical period in symphonies of Beethoven and Schubert. In this age of almost limitless possibilities of sound, colour and instrumentation, it is an interesting challenge for a composer to be guided by the limitations of a smaller orchestra, set as they are in this case by the logistics of regional touring. I have offset these limitations to some extent by asking certain string players to also play some percussion instruments in the second movement, notably water-gongs.
Shadow Music is in three movements: a brief prelude of short and abrupt repeated note motives that set a scene of dramatic possibilities; a slow and somewhat mysterious middle movement entitled "Forgotten Garden" in which reminiscence and nervous anxiety lay side by side; and finally "Voices and Shadows", a passacaglia based upon harmonies outlined in the opening prelude which starts with very hushed and distant sounds, but evolves into a highly energetic and virtuosic orchestral piece.
As with titles of other pieces of mine (for example most recently in the orchestral piece "Dispersal"), the meanings of single words as found in various dictionaries, and the different contexts in which they can be used, provided an ongoing source of inspiration for the way in which the music evolved. In the case of "Shadow Music", although in no way consciously descriptive or programmatic, this can be seen as an interpretation and realisation in sound of various concepts and meanings of the word "shadow". Some examples, as a form of listening guide:
"An area of shade, dark shape or partial darkness" could refer to the way in which the abrupt repeated chords in the opening bars cast "shadows" of sustained string sounds;
"Only the shadow of his former self" describes for me quite aptly the two alto flutes at the end of the second movement as mere echoes of the preceding, majesterial trumpet solo that itself seems to recall the forgotten garden's former glory;
"Indistinct, suspect": the blurred outlining of various harmonies through bounced and scraped bowing techniques in the vague and distant opening of the final movement;
"To watch secretively, follow closely, observe another's movements" ideally describes the fast scurrying string passages in the middle of the last movement, the violas and later the solo string players in this case "shadowing" the tutti violins.
© Brett Dean, 2002
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
"An orchestral soundscape in three movements, Shadow Music finds Dean in increasingly confident voice. There’s nothing identifiably Antipodean about the accent, but his balance of form and content shows that 15 years as a violist with the Berlin Philharmonic were not wasted. The title suggests an indeterminate, often dark atmosphere, which the music amply embroiders. In ‘Prelude’staccato rumblings cast long, shadowy lines that coalesce in an abrupt crescendo. ‘Forgotten garden’ is a dense hothouse of sound, full of ideas that sustain and renew themselves. ‘Voices and Shadows’ begins with atmospheric bowed crotales, before following trombone and contrabassoon into the bowels of the orchestra. Dean knows how to lead the ear..." (Andrew Clark, Financial Times, 09 Jul 2003)
"... a substantial, three-movement work, full of sombre sonorities, which gradually gains in musical weight." (The Guardian, 07 Jul 2003)