The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

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Mandala 4

for string quartet and Chinese gong,

The essential unity of most bird songs within a particular area has long been a source of study and inspiration for me. The unity is expressed in terms of harmony as much as in colour and texture. References to particular birdsongs often arise in my music, growing out of a particular musical context, but in the case of the present work, it is the songs themselves which provide the musical context.

Though it doesn’t sound like the music of Messiaen, Mandala 4 is closer than any other work of mine to his aesthetic. Every musical idea derives from the birdsongs, in particular those of Spirey Creek as I heard them one dawn in the spring of 1984. There is no attempt to imitate the original songs, but their gestures, contours and harmony are the heart and the taking off point for all the music.

The work begins with an introduction in the spirit of a formal dance. The dance is interrupted by a gong (played by the violist) which leads into the main body of the work, an extended viola solo based on the dawn song of a Pied Butcherbird. A mosaic of counterpoints (a kind of anti-development) derived from the song of the Butcherbird’s neighbours grows out of the heterophonic accompaniment. After a reprise of the opening dance, which has been re-shaped by the songs of Currawongs and Little Friarbirds, the essential harmony of the piece gradually dissolves as the sound of the gong leads to a gentle close, a closure without cadence.

Mandala 4 is a single movement and lasts around twenty minutes.


A soundscape composition, The Pied Butcherbirds of Spirey Creek containing the dawn song which is the inspiration for the viola solo in this quartet, is available on the Tall Poppies CD, Mutawinji, TP091.