Visions of Judgement: A New Australian Composition Commission

Reprinted with kind permission from the author, Leighton Triplow

I am passionate about providing young Australian composers with real world experience, well aware of the challenges facing those wishing to break into the industry. In early 2015, I commissioned fellow student and good friend Harry Sdraulig to write a work for voice and piano with the intention of performance during a recent postgraduate exchange to Britain. Visions of Judgement is a continuously running 13 minute cyclic work derived from this fruitful project which symbolises the historical connection between Australia and the United Kingdom. It recasts seventeenth-century poetic forms in a contemporary Australian musical aesthetic by drawing on three sacred poems by Restoration theologian William Fuller. These texts were selected for their directness, highly descriptive and evocative character which paint a grim and sometimes fierce vision of Hell for sins committed on Earth and are thus suited to fresh musical interpretation. The fact these poems were originally set by Purcell echoes my current research into his song collection whilst catering to a personal enthusiasm for performing contemporary Australian repertoire. The world premiere took place at the Australian High Commission in Strand, London last December and will next appear on 3MBS The Talent live radio in mid May.

I. A MORNING HYMN: THOU WAKEFUL SHEPHERD

A great sense of mystery and anticipation is created during the piano introduction with cluster chords steadily accumulating to foreshadow the narrator’s ultimate dejection of mind. A three-note ‘Holy Trinity’ motive chimes innocently at a distance in praise of the morning but will soon come to yield salvation of the Divine. His unforgiving temptation to revel in sin quickly defies a sober mindset of concern as densely layered textures and an anxious rocking motive of the piano bubble to the surface; the torment begins.

II. IN THE BLACK, DISMAL DUNGEON OF DESPAIR

Tossed into the flames of Hell, howls of the narrator’s misadventure are conveyed through coarse articulation, violently plunging tritones and untamed chromaticism. Pointed contrasts and jarring discord describe a nightmarish fate consumed by fear and suffering. But the underworld also provokes an ominousness which is conjured by quoting the eerie theme to ‘O Fortuna’ by Carl Orff (1895—1982). Eleventh hour pleas for redemption go unanswered, sentencing the narrator to eternally languish in misery.

III. AN EVENING HYMN: NOW THAT THE SUN HATH VEIL’D HIS LIGHT

Charred shadows of the Hell fire billow with an uncanny stillness as the narrator slowly wakes from his frenzied hallucination. Quartal and quintal harmonies channel his isolation and aimlessness, knowing that life on earth is merely a stone’s throw away from the wicked delights of the Devil. But then unexpectedly, the Divine chimes back into existence to offer celestial guidance; a second chance afforded against the backdrop of a majestic setting sun. Emphatically crying ‘Hallelujah’, he is saved from such twisted visions of judgement in a newfound allegiance to God.