prelude (3:00)
(i) arterials (4:05)
(ii) some nights there are no words (5:15)
(iii) three rivers
(i) the afternoon river (3:05)
(ii) today’s river (1:55)
(iii) the last river (3:15)
(iv) night river (3:25)
(v) …solitude… (2:00)
(vi) seine (3:45)
(vii) then sea (3:00)

Program note:
The texts of the song cycle Blackwood track the course of the Blackwood River in the South-West of Western Australia from its head to the Indian Ocean. However on another, more personal level, they track a very human tale of birth, love and transcendence. This tension between the expanse of landscape and the intimacy of the human being within it is, for me, integrally connected to our sense of Australian identity. It has long been an inspiration to me, as it has many Australian composers.
These are structurally formal poems yet they contain deeply expressive language. In setting them to music, I have attempted to reflect this duality – syllabic structures of the poems are reflected formally in the metres of the musical settings while the melodic lines inhabit a far more lyrical domain. Similarly the expansion inherent in both the river’s growth and our own personal journey is reflected in a gradual expansion of musical intervals through the course of the work, from 2nds in arterials through to octaves in then sea
The clarinet (the woodwind family’s own black wood) alternately plays the roles of lover and landscape – Messiaen-like birdsong and watery figurations on occasion make way for duets with the voice, most notably in the two love songs that delineate the work’s tripartite structure.
The first of these love songs (some nights there are no words) marks the end of the first section of the work and the second (seine) occurs at the beginning of the final section. Throughout the central section of the cycle, an ever-darkening series of settings incorporate expanding musical means (including a quote from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire) and end with a clarinet solo – a reflection on the text ‘how great the diameter of solitude’.
My joy in writing this work was that it was in fact not an act of solitude. I was writing for dear friends and colleagues – musicians of the highest order whom I have had the pleasure of making music with for many years. I would like to thank Sara, Allan and Graeme for their patience, facility and unfailing generosity whilst the piece emerged, Jody Harrison for commissioning it (with assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council), and of course Kevin for his wonderful words that help transport us all to our own places of calm and deep contentment.
Note : Iain Grandage 2010

“This is a uniquely West Australian project inspired by the Blackwood River. It is a beautiful work for voice, clarinet and piano, the unique combinations of which produce several wonderful moments during the work. It is a very engaging piece with great unity from movement to movement leaving the listener often unaware of the change until later.”
APRA/AMC Classical Music Awards Judging Panel



how great the diameter of solitude?

(i) arterials

across the back of this land,
across knots and bones
thin rivulets of leaving

thoughts that fall then join in flow
at gravity’s whim
across the back of this land

and throat’s of crow and logic’s
smooth stones mark these veins,
thin rivulets of leaving

long sentences curling with
sibilance whisper
across the back of this land,

many attempts at the one
breath, all bleeding, these
thin rivulets of leaving

as wet bracken gifts to the
distant pull of brine,
across the back of this land
thin rivulets of leaving

(ii) some nights there are no words

some nights there are no words,
just an undressing,
a gradual nakedness

the Blackwood ripples, swarms
and we breathe it in,
us born-agains lying sweet and fragile
by its side,
hypnotized by the river’s lick
of wounded land.
marooned beneath the sooty sky
shrubs play chinese whispers
but settle longer now,
luxuriating, shivering a little
as frost too seeks a skin
on which to shrink,
us two freckled blue,
but patient, pushing thought
through unbuttoned sleeves

some nights there are no words

(iii) three rivers

(i) the afternoon river

is patient and
festooned with kookaburra
and full up on winter and
the colour
of my shoe with
white froth from upstream
and through old glass are
tuarts on the
far bank
and inwardly rippled with the
worryings of larvae
as a duck cuts
against flow and
seeps into the old stool
lying, half in
half out
and ignores the rusted
sculptings of black cockatoos-
knows sunset is due

(iii) three rivers

(ii) today’s river

gion, drowning
the old stool, like
new pew-
ter, knows
of rain

(iii) three rivers

(iii) the last river

the last river was before the
last river is old glass the

last river is raven and green
oil drum the last river is

story unseen the last river
knew two ducks the last

river has taken more land the
last river beyond sunlight

the last river before moon the
last river is grnarled bones

of tuart the last river too
dark for dreams the last river

won’t be written down

(iv) night river

gums stand in second-
hand moonlight, river
dark, murmuring its
creed, somewhere close, me-
tallic notes of night
parrot, frogs’ wooden
reply. careless slap
of wet syllables

against the pylons
of jetty. under-
growth servers the purpose
of prayer cushion. how
great the daime-
ter of solitude?

(v) (no text: instrumental)

(vi) Seine

so we took us to stream. you swum. I
did not. We watched haze of late day
smudge in the banks. you spoke. I did not.
a man with road and line and fly
sewed and burred the murked skin. You dozed. I
did not. we drank, just a bit, sips,
wine your Aunt left a long time back, a
crisp white which tugged us to now. you
moved close. I did too. It could have been
the wine, the time, the way the sun
slunk back to wait ‘til dawn, could have been
the light, how white and hope and ash
and loss etched and webbed and made us taut
but slack and small and one, could have
been the choir of frogs that bumphed and burped
to each and all from the rocks and
scree near the dam. it was, we think, all
of these things. you asked. I said yes

(vii) then sea

before mouth, green pearl,
river’s offering
or just forgotten?
moon indifferent

river offering
gush of fresh in brine
moon indifferent
frogs throating their known

gush of fresh in brine
wind shaves banks to dune
frogs throating their known

wind shaves banks to dune
but, not forgotten
before mouth, green pearl,

Poems © Kevin Gillam. Reproduced here with permission of the author.



for Soprano, Clarinet and Piano