Bird of Paradise (for soprano, violin & piano), a setting of James McAuley’s poem entitled “To the Holy Spirit”, was composed at the request of the acclaimed Sydney-based trio, the Grevillea Ensemble.
In three stanzas, McAuley’s poem focuses on the magnificent Bird of Paradise which, plumed with glowing iris, descends from the high mountain to visit regions of eucalypt and palm.
With a piano part inspired by sounds of wind chimes, the setting commences with a depiction of a calm morning scene. The soprano, against violin counterpoint, sings of the bird as “plumed with glowing iris along each curving wire”.
The central section of the work makes dramatic use of the ensemble and calls for a heightened level of rhythmic energy as accompaniment to the poet’s evocation of the prophetic bird’s dancing in rippling spectrums of fire.
The third section of the work involves a gradual flowering of the music. Against pizzicato violin, the soprano sings of a sacred rhythm, a rhythm which inspires “the trembling breath of the flute” and “the exultant cosmic psalm.”
A shimmering progression of piano tremolo chords forms a background to the violin and soprano as they journey towards the work’s colourful conclusion.