From the Beginning
for large choir SATB, organ and orchestra (2003),, timp+1, harp, organ, strings
duration: 10’
text by Ross Baglin
GRT • 094

score available from
Australian Music Centre

program note
From the Beginning was commissioned by the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic to be performed in 2003 to commemorate their 150th year. The text draws on the history of the RMP which was “founded in 1853 by a group of colonial leaders and music lovers who wished to bring musical culture of a high standard to the early Colony of Victoria”. Melbourne poet, Ross Baglin, has interpreted this early activity in terms of occupying “with mass and voice, the void land where the railway ends…” - a form of cultivation; not only of the soil, but also of our hearts and minds through communal singing. This picture forms the arch-like expanse of the first movement.

The second movement takes an aerial snapshot of the contemporary city - a fusion of established buildings and imposing recent architecture set by the city’s river. Within this geographical context, threads exist between generations of ‘voices’ maintaining a tradition of choral singing. What began as a form of coping with ‘exile’ has slowly become a cultural celebration of what is now ‘home’ for people of many different origins.

The piece is dedicated to the RMP: to its conductor, its singers, musicians and supporters.

available on resources page

A world premiere concluded the advertised program; From The Beginning by local composer Stuart Greenbaum, written especially for the occasion. Greenbaum's two-movement cantata takes as its text a poem by Melbourne-born but London-based poet Ross Baglin, and presents two contrasting views of Melbourne. Through a series of choral passages that gradually build and then disperse, the RMP's place in the development of the city is told. The music is understated, but evocative, employing some interesting effects with tuned percussion and string harmonics. Greenbaum's music buzzes with an unrelenting energy and generates an instant appeal. Featuring heavily syncopated rhythms and heroic choral melodies, the work is elegant in its structure and colourfully orchestrated. The vociferous reaction of the audience to the piece must have been of great satisfaction to the composer who was present in the audience.
Christopher Dee, Independent Arts Review, September 2003


What's owed to the singer
Is never paid, though paper cups
Run full with coin ; hear them,
Grafting Handel to the grey gum
And cicada, in their formals,
Women and brown-bearded men
Turning exile slowly to home.

They sang, though the world
Was a world away, their town
An outpost, and the centre
Always somewhere else,
Sang to occupy, with mass and voice
The void land where the railway ends
And the lost explorer's cry returns.

Arctic Rialto, hologram
Of the west, industrial sun,
Stands pharos-like above the dock
Where tankers wink, and cabled streets
Laid out like circuits echo cars.
The river, bronze and immemorial
Is all that’s built to last, the rest
Is making vocable the mute
And ominous tomorrow. It flows
From ferny hill to coastal foam
Where Asia and Mediterranea
Fuse, and an architect’s glass
Soars past the Victorian stone,
Da Capo, exile ; fine, home.

Blown glass are those voices,
Splintered and starred,
Thread optics where the images pass
To a centre that's nowhere but now,
The song of a city they began
To sing in its only dome ; what's owed
To the singer is never paid.
Da Capo , exile ; fine, home.