Australian composer James Ledger

Rashomon Confessions
16 mins
cl(=bcl)-string quartet

Premiere: 13 December 2009
Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House
WASO Chamber Players

Play sample

The title of this work comes in part from a 1950 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa called Rashomon. In the film, four people witness the apparent murder of a nobleman and the rape of his wife and then give four differing but equally plausible accounts of what took place.
The film takes place in twelfth-century Japan, and one of the four main characters, the woodcutter, tells his version of the events to a passer-by in a ruined stone temple named Rashomon. The stories of the three other main characters - the nobleman, his wife and a bandit - are delivered at a trial through flashback. (The dead nobleman, incidentally, recounts his story through a medium). The film is a study on truths from certain perspectives - how nothing is black and white in a very grey world.
The four characters and their stories form the four movements of Rashomon Confessions but I should point out that this work is not attempting to recreate the soundtrack of the film, nor is it a programmatic description of it. Whilst the work does have some of its origins in the film’s scenarios, each movement is a study in duplicity. All four confessions begin with the same music, representing the facts and delivered in a very cool and detached manner, as a court judge might do. Then there is a chord sequence that appears in each movement, but this varies dramatically on each occurrence, representing the distortion of the truth.
The outline of the four movements is as follows:
Confession 1 (the bandit). There is music of noble quality as the bandit imparts his heroic deeds, but the rhythmic discrepancies within the ensemble and tempo changes suggests that something isn’t right, however.
Confession 2 (the nobleman). The movement consists entirely of harmonics in the string parts producing an ethereal, other-worldly sound that represents the deceased man talking through the medium. The clarinet imparts the chord sequence in the low register in very calm and proud tremolos.
Confession 3 (the wife). The long clarinet and cello line in this movement suggest the mourning wife whilst the frantic passage in the upper strings relate to her concealed anger.
Confession 4 (the woodcutter). As a third party witness to these events, the woodcutter had no reason to lie but at the end of his story we are left wondering who was telling the truth, if indeed anyone. This unknowing is sounded in the second half of the movement which ends simply as a duo for bass clarinet and viola.

Rashomon Confessions was commissioned by Sydney Opera House with funds provided by the Regina Ridge Trust.

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