ae38—Boyd Panels-for Solo Piano

My Boyd Panels was written during my residency at the Bundanon Artists Centre on the Shoalhaven River, a property left to the Australian Government by the renown, late Australian artist Arthur Boyd.

While at this very special part of Australia I wrote a great deal of music over a two week period -– a new orchestral work, a new clarinet, violin and piano trio, some songs and these five short piano pieces. These pieces were inspired by the dense natural magnetism of Bundanon itself and its superb setting which Boyd appreciated for its unspoiled, meditative landscape and dramatic outcroppings of hill and rock. The most famous of these – Pulpit Rock – Boyd immortalized in canvas after canvas to the point where it is now an iconic feature of Bundanon and the Shoalhaven area. The other natural feature of the landscape is the spectacular, winding and moody Shoalhaven River.

Boyd’s intuitive synthesis of these strong features of the landscape (bold harshness contrasting lyrical fragility) with aspects of his own obsessions with classical studies (mythology, classical form, etc.), religious mysticism, musings on the delicacy of life and the inevitability of death, presented a powerful mixture of influences and inspiration for these short works for piano.

Two of the works are based on the strong, almost otherworldly force, of the landscape and light of the area itself. Meditation at Pulpit Rock begins the work with a muscular yet not loud series of chords that form a type of chorale, the harmonic richness and colouring of which is reflective of the force of light on the variegated forms of Pulpit Rock, itself a magnificent copper-red rock outcropping. Shoalhaven Light – Late Afternoon is also a response to the impressive awesomeness of late afternoon sunlight on this special landscape.

The three other works in the set are all reflections on paintings of Boyd’s which are everywhere at Bundanon. Crucifixion and Rose is a stark, bizarre panel imbued with naturalism, Christian mysticism and grace with its depiction of Jesus on a Crucifix that is planted directly into the river like many of the dead trees still upstanding in the Shoalhaven riverbed. Floating beside is a large rose with a prominent thorn. In the background are the rocky, dry hills of the Shoalhaven.

The Magic Fish again alludes to the famous parable of the loaves and fishes and is a painting of enormous energy and movement with a large fish spewing a near perfect arc of water as it is wrestled, wriggling, to the rocks.

Black River, which concludes the set, is based on the famous painting Flame Trees, Horse’s Skull, Black River. In this work a flame tree seems to grow directly out of a horses skull, which is wrapped in barbed wire with Pulpit Rock as the backdrop and Black River horizontally bisecting the picture directly in the middle. To the side, in the background, a woman in a dark dress carries a naked infant in her arms as she walks towards the skull. Again, the crucifixion theme imbedded in this bizarre and wonderfully stark painting alludes to Boyd’s other central themes: the fragility of life and inevitability of death. Yet within this message lies also the hope of rebirth and regeneration represented by the dualistic meaning of the impossibly blood-red/fire-red blooms of the flame tree and the infant being carried to the center, to the ‘now’ of the painting. I love this painting for its simplicity, power, subtlety, drama and classical balance. I have sought to bring these qualities out in my five short works in homage to Boyd, his artistic vision, and this magical part of Australia.

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The School of Natural Philosophy

Australian virtuoso pianist Michael Kieran Harvey plays Douglas Knehans' Boyd Panels for solo piano.