I composed Hinterland to explore the concept of ‘earth’ to follow-up last year’s wind-themed tone poem Spiritus. The German title (literally “land behind”) speaks of my feeling of disconnection, the land lying seemingly beyond the obscuring sprawl of our urban existence. Rather than compose purely out of my imagined sense of this colossal mass below, I focus in Hinterland on how the landscape elicits a direct psychological response from me through its various reflections of sound and light. Topography shapes the diffusion of light (especially touching at dawn and dusk), and we perceive visual depth and therefore space in its relation to the horizon. Likewise, the acoustics in a landscape can shape our psychological response in a subtle but distinct manner. So, taking the many unique rock formations of my native Western Australia as a starting point, Hinterland becomes a series of imagined sound and light plays acted out in music.
Lachlan Skipworth. Photo © Nik Babic
The work – which was commissioned by Geoff Stearn for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra – opens with deep brooding chords sweeping slowly through the orchestra like continents shifting gradually into place. Above this, a violin pulse murmurs and trumpet calls spark sporadic eruptions in the upper winds as the texture intensifies, suddenly receding to reveal a drawn-out melody low in the clarinet and violas. Moving slowly higher as it winds through the cello, cor anglais and horn, the melody emerges transformed in a delicate oboe line against cascading winds and harp. The violins gradually pick this up, and the dense chordal mass of the opening returns to build a powerful climactic peak.
Later, a contrabassoon calls from the subterranean depths surrounded by muted responses, all veiled within a sul tasto texture in divided cellos, before a solo flute bathed in shimmering strings captures sparks of sunlight in shallow rock pools. At this point the percussionists begin to beat out whispering figures on a set of three large river stones which are laid upon drum-heads to add an eerie resonance to their muted timbre. Trumpet echoes soon peal forth above a quivering pulse, their sound spilling out as if reverberating down a gorge. Driving momentum returns in a muscular finale calling on the strings to navigate angular rhythmic figures above sharp accented interjections in the brass and woodwind.
‘Water’ is the obvious theme for my next orchestral work, but I am left to ponder if perhaps it’s time I examined the darker side of our modern urbanised life. We shall see.
The West Australian Symphony Orchestra performs Lachlan Skipworth’s Hinterland at Perth Concert Hall November 16 and 17