Australian composer James Ledger

Mean Ol’ World
17 mins
ob(=corA).cl(=bcl)-tpt-perc(1): 3crot/susp.cym/splash cym/3brake drm/stainless steel bowl/wind gong/small bells/pedBD-strings (min:

Premiere: 12 Sep 2004
Grainger Studio, Adelaide
Stellar! Collective

Play sample

I borrowed the title for Mean Ol’ World from a blues tune. With a title such as that, it wasn’t hard for my thoughts to make the transition into the often uneasy topic of human conflict. Most of the music is therefore, of a sad and languid nature or at other times, troubled and aggressive.

Whilst I never heard the original blues tune, the idea of using blues-like motifs and references seemed appropriate as it is music often characterised by despair and loneliness.

These elements are particularly evident in the first movement, lullaby, which begins with a bluesy ‘wail’ in the clarinet that is soon handed over to the oboe. A melancholic but stately trumpet enters as a counter to this. Much of what follows is thematic development and variation that sounds as though it could be improvised, but is in fact all notated. The movement ends with the musicians ‘playing’ their instruments but without creating any sound, as if their voices have been silenced.

The second movement, charade, is overall fast, unrelenting and vehement. The first section is characterised by constant changing metres interrupted by instruments ‘falling’ off their notes. The central section contains rapid machine-gun like figures that move in quarter-tones. This is then contrasted with a heart beat in the percussion that gradually winds down to a halt. After some more aggressive music, it quietens into a walking bass pattern (another blues reference) and the piece ends quite openly, never quite resolving.

Mean Ol’ World is scored for oboe including cor anglais, clarinet including bass clarinet, trumpet, percussion (including a variety of bells and cymbals) and string quintet. It was commissioned by the Stellar! Collective with financial assistance from the Australia Council.

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