The composer writes:
My Clarinet Quintet Songs from the Bush was inspired by folk melodies from both sides of the Australian colonial frontier, and is meant as a personal evocation of historical musical elements that formed part of Australia’s past, as well as its present.
The three movements – Country Dance, Campfire & Night Sky and Drover’s Lament – draw material from three sources. My ageing but treasured copy of John Meredith’s Folk Songs of Australia, with its rambling, incomplete survey of folk tunes collected in New South Wales during the 1950s and 60s, provided such gems as The Wild Rover, Shores of Botany Bay (both heard in highly modified form
in the first movement); and the lonesome immigrant’s lament Sixteen Thousand Miles (heard at the opening of the third movement).
One of the most prolific of Meredith’s contributors was the gifted amateur violinist Sally Sloane, who lived not far from us at Teralba on Lake Macquarie. It is her rendition of an unnamed Irish jig that suggested the central dance section of Country Dance. She and the other old-timers, lovingly and patiently recorded over more than a decade, formed a living link to the colonial era of their grandparents, who had passed down the folk traditions of their homelands.
Opening and closing the piece is a homage to the Indigenous people who shared the colonial world of the folk singers’ ancestors. A melody freely developed from a Walmajarri children’s song collected by Alice Moyle at La Grange in 1964 bears an interesting, if coincidental, resemblance to Sixteen Thousand Miles, and serves to show a link and a sympathy between the two cultures in ways that words can struggle to, and history might tend to deny.
The third musical source, of course, is simply my own little fantasy world, and Campfire & Night Sky carries no folk melody, nor holds any symbolism beyond a wistful fancy that there was once a world of honest drovers, campfires and starry nights in which to tell unlikely tales and share old songs without doing anyone any harm.
Songs from the Bush was commissioned for Musica Viva Australia by John Sharpe and Claire Armstrong. Ian Munro © 2009