Program Notes: Florilegium II

Florilegium II [1992]
Concertino for solo marimba and small ensemble

I : The Little Train to Kuranda [Cairns, Far North Queensland, Australia)
II : Frederick Delius Returns to Solano Grove
(near the St John’s River, Near Jacksonville, Florida, USA)
III: Sherbrooke Forest [The Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, Australia
IV : Maroon Bells [Aspen, Colorado, USA]

Dictionaries define the word Florilegium as an anthology of botanical drawings. The word's derivation is from the Latin flos [flower] and the Greek anthologion [anthology].

My Florilegium has nothing to do with botany. It is a series of sketches and memoirs of places I have encountered as I have divided my life between my native Australia and the United States, where I have lived since mid-1988. Each movement is dedicated to people I associate with that particular location.

The piece is conceived as a chamber concertino for solo instrument and small ensemble. The solo instrument does not draw attention to itself as a true concerto soloist; its role is more interior and subdued, reflecting on the role of the commentator/observer [i.e. the composer] viewing the situation [the ensemble]. There are now three works in the series: the first is for viola [1991], the second is for marimba [1992], the third for clarinets [1997]. Each version utilises a specified group of four movements taken from a pool of six, as befitting the nature of the solo instrument. Thus, a movement relating to Dvorak's sojourning in Spillville, Iowa, is exclusive to the viola version; another relating to Delius's time in Jacksonville, Florida, is in the marimba version; and a recollection of Gershwin's summer near Charleston, South Carolina, is in the clarinet version.

Each version opens with The Little Train to Kuranda. This recalls those few weeks in 1985 that I spent in Cairns, the coastal gateway of the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland. One day my hosts directed my to the trainride from Cairns, up the sugarcane mountains and into the tropical rainforest community of Kuranda. My postcard souvenir gushes about the railway's 15 tunnels, 37 bridges and numerous waterfalls. My musical journey travels along tracks already traversed by other composer/train enthusiasts, notably Villa Lobos and Honegger.

Around 1885, Frederick Delius lived in northern Florida, ostensibly managing an orange plantation owned by his parents. He lived in a little cottage at Solano Grove, today about an hour’s drive south of Jacksonville, right on the banks of the St John’s River. The house has now been transported upriver to the campus of Jacksonville University and is preserved there, even down to the clock in his study, whose chimes are heard in this music. But the property itself remains virtually untouched, still a dense and mysterious Florida jungle, which eventually yields the mighty river, about a mile wide at that point. There Delius sat on an uprooted oak tree and heard the negro minstrelsy as the river steamers trawled the mighty waterway. Sitting at that site, the visitor can understand that this is where the young British composer found his soul. The movement ends with diminishing statements of the only surviving fragment of music by Delius’s teacher in Jacksonville, Thomas Ward (1856-1912), as a wistful memory.

The third movement of this version, Sherbrooke Forest, recalls the year I lived in the Dandenong Ranges, about 60 miles north of Melbourne. Some friends there enabled me to experience the raucous dawn chorus of birds amid the exotic dense ferns of Sherbrooke Forest. The shimmering textures of the ensemble accompany the most vivid image of this experience: the wild mating dance and virtuosic mimicry of the lyrebird.

The final movement of all three versions, Maroon Bells, conveys my feelings for the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. For nearly three years, I lived in Colorado Springs, on the Front Range of the Rockies. On earlier visits, friends would take me hiking on the roof of North America. In the summer of 1988, I returned, this time as a Visiting Composer at the Aspen Music Festival. Almost immediately, the Aspen lifestyle - celebrated, racy, extrovert, vapid - seemed in direct contrast to the natural surroundings. Artifice imposing on Nature. Gazing at the granitic majesty of the cathedral peaks of the Maroon Bells, one could hear those lines of William Blake's:

Great things happen
When men and mountains meet.

At the music's close, resonating grandeur yields to exultant release and gratitude.

Copyright Vincent Plush
Mackay, Queensland, July 1999