Australian composer James Ledger

The Natural Church
10 mins

Premiere: 27 March 2016
The Sound Shell
Bermagui, NSW

Four Winds Easter Festival
James Ledger - conductor

PROGRAMME NOTE The original idea for this was a piece of night music. Specifically, the image of driving along our country roads at night – the canopy of eucalyptus trees forming an archway. In a moment of pure serendipity, I was reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet #73, where an analogy is made between the archway formed overhead by the barren boughs along a tree lined passage and the bare ruins of a church. The first four lines of the sonnet are as follows:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
I found this imagery of the “boughs which shake against the cold” and “bare ruin’d choirs” to be highly evocative and so the idea of a “natural church” came to mind. Just as a tree loses it leaves and becomes bare in winter, a church left to ruin with its roof shattered leaving only the stone walls and perhaps the thickest of beams. If you consider the image of a large stretch of trees along a road, and the long repetitive roof structure of a church or cathedral, the analogy becomes even more striking. The piece itself conveys the idea of a long archway with beams (or boughs) meeting in the middle overhead. The repetition of arches are represented in the ensemble by descending flourishes. Each time they occur they are subtly different from the preceding one. Over time these musical arches deteriorate in some way – like collapsing stone work, or a tree losing its leaves. Against this crumbling musical architecture, the piano chimes out discordant church bells in the distance. These bells now a sorry reflection of their former glory.

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