Australian composer James Ledger

House of Stairs
8 mins

Premiere: 5 April 2017
USQ Arts Theatre
Toowoomba, Queensland
White Halo Ensemble


House of Stairs is from a proposed larger work called Escher Portraits. It is named after the Escher lithograph of the same name from 1951. The picture depicts a physically impossible situation where gravity and dimension are redundant. This is typical of a great deal of Escher’s work – he has an uncanny gift for fooling the brain into believing the impossible with warped logic and unique perspective. In Escher’s House of Stairs, we see a large cavernous space with tiled walls. The space is cluttered with stairways that come and go every-which-way. Filling the stairways are bizarre mechanical caterpillar-like creatures with bug-eyes and six human feet. The trick is that what appears to be a wall for part of the picture turns out to be a floor for another part. Escher is able to achieve this trick of the eye in two-dimensions by using very subtle curves over the spaces. The overall effect is a mix of head-scratching bewilderment and breath-taking astonishment. Ledger’s quartet is a response to that – through the mingling of disparate harmonic worlds into co-existence. ie: fast chromaticism in the strings set against triadic punctuations in the piano is heard at the opening. These two ideas gradually descend together (downstairs?). The frenetic speed at the start also suggests the rapid scurrying of the creatures in Escher’s work. Later on, the violin and then cello slowly glissando downwards, suggesting a free-fall, a place without gravity.

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