The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

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Hagoromo had originally been commissioned by the BBC for the 1975 Prom series, but proved most elusive. All my music of 1974 and 1975 grew out of ideas related to Hagoromo– it shares musical material and techniques with Salvation Creek – but it was not till I settled again at Pittwater on the eastern edge of Ku-ringai Chase in 1976 that the music finally took shape.

It takes its name from the Noh play by Seami (15th century) which I first enjoyed in Arthur Waley’s translation. An angel dances for two fishermen who have found her lost robe among the pines by the sea-shore one spring morning.

It is the sign of Spring. Not Heaven is here but beauty of the wind and sky. * * * Waves lapping, wind in the pine-trees whispering Along the quiet shore. * * * I am robed in sky, in the empty blue of heaven * * * Now in a garment of spring mist.

(Translation by Arthur Waley)

The starting point of the music is not the action of the play (which is minimal) nor the style of the Noh (which is inimitable) but the dance of the feathered robe, its suchness, its now.For me Hagoromo is:

a robe of feathers: precise, shifting, detailed, blending, dense, transparent, a rainbow

trees by the sea: the floury meal of new bark, the smell of fallen leaves in the sun, sunlight on the water, dappled leaves, a cloud dissolving

a wilderness in the spring: wildflowers, birdsong, the flight of butterflies, the scramble of lizards

the folds of time: the harmony of a single flute, the melody of a bell.

The first and third movements were composed at Pittwater, the second in England the following year. Perhaps because of this break, the second movement never found its definitive shape and exists in two versions.

Each movement opens with a slow, reflective gesture (for me, it was the sun rising out of the sea) which is at once a beginning, an end, and a still point of transformation. At the beginning of the first movement it’s played by low drums, brass and strings and leads to a melody for solo flute which expands and accelerates into a counterpoint of textures for the full orchestra. It is interrupted twice during its development – first by a gently reiterated chord played by the full orchestra (cf. Salvation Creek) and then by a slow-moving chord which grows out of octave Es (looking ahead to the third movement).

The second movement continues the long melody (this time on the strings)developing through interruptions (pitched percussion). It opens with little bells, brass and wind (the little bells, acting as a marker, introduce each section of the movement and, like the low drums in the first movement, they play an important role in shaping the third). At the centre of the movement the twelve woodwind players enter one byone and weave a dense polyphony of birdsong-like solos. (Again, adevelopment of Salvation Creek.) It concludes with the entry of the strings under this counterpoint, bringing the movement to a close on D and its harmonics.

The third movement opens like the first. A dance for drums, piano, harp and pitched percussion alternates with a massive chorale for the rest of the orchestra. About two thirds of the way through, they fuse and lead through a wild dance to the last transformation of the opening of the piece.