The Memories of Poplar Trees

Music of Sally Greenaway
Commissioned by Orange Regional Conservatorium Chamber Academy with the support of the Godfrey Turner Memorial Music Trust.

The Memories of Poplar Trees is inspired by the hallmark avenues of tall poplars, lined up at attention on either side of the main streets of towns scattered across New South Wales.

The trees were planted in c.1938 as part of a concerted state-wide effort to commemorate fallen WW1 soldiers and key civic officials; including local mayors. (Note also that this coincides with 150 years since European settlement, where nationalistic parades and celebrations took place across NSW.)

A Poplar tree's lifespan can as much as 200 years and historically they have provided inspiration for folklore worldwide. The delicate rustling of their short-stemmed heart-shaped leaves is said to be whispering secrets and memories. The wood has medicinal qualities used by healers to comfort those who are grieving. The Celts believed that Poplars symbolised victory, transformation and vision.

The Poplar trees of NSW, cast into straight lines for history and aesthetics, have lived through and beared witness to many significant events and changes in society over several generations – WWII, floods and droughts and climate change, booms and busts of their towns, urbanisation and highway bypasses. And the stories of the generations of townspeople and visitors who have travelled past them.

Many of these poplars are dying now. Several have been removed altogether due to being public hazards or to accommodate road widening. But those that remain are now heritage listed and continue to bring seasonal beauty and historic character to their towns, even those with only a faint hint of green remaining in their skeletal branches; they continue to guard the entrance of their towns and whisper memory to those who pause to notice these trees.

Greenaway's writing for The Memory of Poplars features extensive use of the tremolo effect, whereby the instruments create shimmering harmonic textures to evoke the rustling of leaves. The melodic material of the piece is inspired by a melodic fragment from Venus by Holst (from his Planet Suite, composed during WW1).Throughout human history, Venus has been surrounded by mythology and symbolism, with common themes across cultures with female deities, 'bringer of light', looking towards the future without forgetting the past, prosperity and peace.

The symbolism of both Holst's Venus and the Poplar avenue plantings combine and intersect for the inspiration for this piece, The Memories of Poplar Trees. Greenaway's writing demands the performers to stretch their command of soft playing, in order to create a peaceful and ethereal sound world.

The piece was commissioned by the Orange Regional Conservatorium, with the support the Godfrey Turner Memorial Music Trust, to feature four outstanding students.

The premiere performance was given by these students for the Orange Chamber Music Festival 2022.

Category: Chamber: Trio to Large Ensemble;
Instrumentation: Quartet: Flute, Violin, Viola Cello
Year: 2022
Work duration: 5min
Difficulty/level: Advanced
Commissioned by: Orange Regional Conservatorium Chamber Academy with the support of the Godfrey Turner Memorial Music Trust.
Category: Orchestral, Wind Symphony, Brass Band;
Instrumentation: Flute, String Orchestra
Year: 2023
Work duration: 5min
Difficulty/level: Advanced

Versions of this work appear in these recordings

The Memories of Poplar Trees
Sally Greenaway
Released 2023

Performed by Sally Walker (flute), Helentherese Good (violin) and String Orchestra: Barbara Jane Gilby, Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich, Timothy Wickham, Erin Patrick (violins); John Ma, Lucy Carrigy-Ryan, Liz Chalker - (violas); Samuel Payne, Liam Meany (cellos); Kyle Ramsay-Daniel (bass)

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