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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

Front Page

AUSTRALIA

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Introduction

The pattern of Australian classical music has much in common with other countries that entered the 20th century without a classical music tradition of their own, such as Canada or Mexico. The earlier part of the century was characterised by music that essentially belonged to European traditions, with the best known figures working outside Australia. A nationalist period, discovering indigenous traditions (in the case of Australia, aboriginal legends and music), has been followed by a generation of younger composers either following the mainstream European avant-garde, or combining elements of that very international language with a continued exploration of Australia's own cultural and native heritage. However, followers of 12-tone developments have been rare in Australia; by the time younger composers studied in Europe, the influences were Boulez, Stockhausen, Lutosławski and similar models, who in many cases had themselves moved beyond serialism. Thanks to Australia's geographical position, many recent composers have also been influenced by traditional and contemporary music from the Pacific Rim countries, notably that of Balinese and Japanese cultures.

The 19th century had already seen some colourful, but now forgotten, Australian composers. The Irish-born composer-violinist William Vincent Wallace (1812-1865) fell for a Maori princess in New Zealand, and ended up in Chile, while Isaac Nathan (1790-1864), who claimed descent from the kings of Poland, was killed by a horse-drawn tram, after collecting aboriginal songs and transcribing them to conventional European idioms. Of the earliest generation recognized as Australian composers, the two best known, Percy Grainger (1882-1961) and Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960), spent most of their lives working in Britain or the U.S.A., and both came to prominence initially as pianists as much as composers. Peggy Glanville-Hicks (born 1912), a tireless critic (for the New York Herald-Tribune) and supporter of new music, spent most of her life in the U.S.A. and Greece, and is best known for her chamber music (including settings of some of fellow-critic Virgil Thomson's reviews) and later operas, notably Nausica (after Robert Graves, 1960). The main composer to stay in Australia was Alfred Hill (1870-1960) who retained throughout his life the musical language he had learnt in Germany at the end of the 19th century. Also virtually unknown outside Australia is Margaret Sutherland (1897-1984), whose main legacy is her chamber music, and whose opera The Young Kabbarli (1964) was the first Australian opera to be recorded in Australia. Her pioneering example in a country not noted historically for its emancipation of women is reflected in the large number of contemporary Australian women composers. Other composers of this generation include William Lovelock (born 1899), but Grainger remains the most widely known Australian composer, as much for his flamboyant life-style as for his music.

The rediscovery of Aboriginal ideas and legends was spearheaded by the landmark ballet Corroboree (1935-1946) by John Antill (1904-1986), still one of the most successful and evocative of all Australian scores. Its basis is the opposition of percussion and high woodwind to the rest of a big orchestra; its colours are bright and bold, offset by sharp points and the rattles and hisses of percussion. The atmosphere is of sensuous headiness, of a primitivism driven by motoric rhythms, and if it has sometimes been called 'the Australian Rite of Spring', it is much more accurate to compare it with similar ballet works by Ginastera and Villa-Lobos, both of whom were responding to similar discoveries of a rich and earthy natural heritage. It deserves to be in the occasional repertoire in the West. Of the next generation of composers, Malcolm Williamson (born 1931) is the senior figure, who attracted sufficient attention with his large scale orchestral works to be appointed Master of the Queen's Musick in Britain in 1975. Since the 1960s, his music has become increasingly conservative and light-weight, and has included operas for children and works with audience participation. Besides Williamson, the best known are Don Banks (born 1923), whose influences are eclectic and include jazz, Richard Meale (born 1932), whose language is international rather than identifiably Australian, and perhaps the most familiar, Peter Sculthorpe (1929), who has been heavily influenced by music of the Pacific Rim. All three composers have regularly been heard in Europe and the U.S.A.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Australia saw an explosion of artistic activity and cultural self-confidence. The emergence of the Australian film (and television) industry has been the area that has most attracted international attention. But the building of the extraordinary Sydney Opera House, begun in 1957 and completed in 1973 with four concert halls and two recording halls, designed by the Danish architect Joern Utzon and one of the most imaginative buildings of its kind anywhere in the world, marked the maturity of Australia as a musical country. It is a textbook case of how money and attention lavished on the arts can bring a country international acclaim, continuing attention and prestige that far outweighs the original costs and the considerable outcry that those costs provoked in politicians and philistines incapable of looking beyond next year's budget. It is no exaggeration to say that general public interest in and knowledge of Australians (beyond stereotypes) among Europeans and North Americans, with all the consequent ties of business and commerce, is largely due to the Australian film industry and to the Sydney Opera House.

That explosion of cultural activity has had its ramifications in composition, notably in the opening of a national 24-hour serious music radio station by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1976. However, familiarity with the large number of composers currently working in Australia is greatly hampered by the apparent inability of Australian recording concerns to disseminate Australia's new music outside Australia. Some of the major recording companies have subsidiaries in Australia, but are unwilling or unable to have their material issued by international parent companies. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has made many recordings, sometimes excellent, but they have appeared outside Australia only in private issues, and are likely to be found only in the largest university libraries. This is a regrettable situation, especially when small companies in other countries have shown the limited but commercially viable interest and curiosity in similar material across the Western world. The extreme difficulty of anyone outside Australasia in encountering the music of Australia's cultural coming of age has limited the number of composers included here, and does not necessarily reflect the intrinsic worth of those excluded.

Among this current generation of composers who deserve more interest are Nigel Butterley, whose recent works have included a number of settings of Walt Whitman, Barry Conyngham (born 1944), who has explored the Australian heritage in music theatre and opera (notably the opera Ned, 1974-1978), and Douglas Knehans (born 1957), who is also turning to opera and music theatre. Helen Gifford (born 1935) is another composer influenced by Balinese traditions. John Crocker (b.1944) is an experimenter in sound as an art form using electronics and multi-media. Larry Sitsky (1934), born in China, is known for his keyboard music and his studies of Busoni. Martin Wesley-Smith (born 1945) concentrates on computer music and audio-visual works, and runs the group WATT and environmental group TREE. Michael Whiticker has been influenced by the music of Pacific Rim and the Korean composer Isang Yun. Betty Beath has written environmental works and a number of stage works for children to librettos by the writer David Cox, notably with indigenous, Balinese and Javanese themes. Ross Edwards (born 1943) has written in both a sparse, introspective style with Far Eastern influences, and a much more extrovert and traditional idiom.

Australia has also produced a number of distinguished interpreters. One of the most outstanding, the violinist, conductor and composer Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), brother of the harpists Marie and Sidonie Goossens and of the oboist Leon Goossens, came to Australia in 1946 to direct the New South Wales Conservatory and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and was knighted in 1955 for his services (although he returned to England following a minor personal scandal in 1956). The two most distinguished were opera singers. Dame Nellie Melba (actually Helen Mitchell, 1859-1931) was one of the most famous and loved singers of her age. Dame Janet Sutherland (born 1926), perhaps the greatest coloratura soprano since the Second World War, needs little introduction. She retired in 1990. Others include the pianist and champion of new music Roger Woodward, and the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, who has become celebrated for his interpretations of Czech music. In Peter Conrad, born in Tasmania and now dividing his time between England and New York, Australia has produced one of the most provocative contemporary writers on opera.

Australian Music Centre Ltd.

P.O. Box N690

Grosvenor Place

New South Wales, 2000

Australia

tel: +61 2 247 4677

fax: +61 2 241 2873

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BANKS

BENJAMIN

GRAINGER

HILL

MEALE

SCULTHORPE

WILLIAMSON

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BANKS Don

born 25th October, 1923 at South Melbourne

died 5th September, 1980 at Sydney

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Don Banks spent many years in Britain, 1949-1972, where he first came to attention with the Duo for Violin and Cello (1951-1952), which uses a 14-note row. However, on his return to Australia, he became established as one of the leading figures promoting, encouraging and teaching new music. His own music reflects his eclectic interest in the different techniques available to contemporary composers.

His earliest acknowledged works were chamber pieces, but included transcriptions of Elizabethan works in Elizabethan Miniatures (1961), for flute, lute, viola da gamba and strings. With Equation I (1963-1964) for jazz group and chamber ensemble he initiated a number of works that use jazz musicians (his father was a jazz player). These include Settings from Roget (1966), combining serialism with jazz, and Three Short Songs (1971) for female jazz singer and jazz quartet, Meeting Place (1970) for chamber orchestra, jazz groups and sound synthesizer, and Take Eight (1973) for string quartet and jazz quartet. A flirtation with aleatoric elements was reflected in Form X (1964), a `graphic score' for two to ten players. Assemblies (1966) for orchestra was designed to introduce student players to contemporary techniques, including semi-improvisatory elements, but is entertaining in its own right. The Violin Concerto (1966) is unusually constructed (the equivalent of a slow movement comes in the middle of the last of three movements), and the melodic solo writing was designed to avoid extended instrumental techniques while at the same time building a complex of interrelated series expanding from a single cell, using clusters. Tirade (1968) for voice, piano, harp, and percussionists (using some 50 instruments) is a kind of polemic against Australia, with texts by Peter Porter. It presents, amid a welter of percussion, a picture of Australia as an `ever-present' museum, attacks the exploitation and rape of the Australian landscape, and savages the traditional Australian treatment of its culture and heritage. Its materials range from stark simplicity with characteristic slow progressions, to frenzy, including a siren. An element of that violence had already appeared in the short, atonal, but still slow-moving Pezzo dramatico (1956) for piano.

With Intersections (1969) for electronic sounds and orchestra, he added electronic media to his palette, eventually leading to Shadows of Space (1972) for tape. Limbo (1972) for soloists, chamber ensemble and pre-recorded tape - even if it does use a rather pretentious existentialist text (prepared with Peter Porter) that is a reflection of its late-sixties origins - shows eclectic diversity, with half-spoken chattering of chorus (on tape), pop elements, lyrical writing when solo voice is used against the chamber ensemble, interjections from the tape, and echoes, perhaps intentional, of Britten in the duet and trio vocal writing, complete with distant snarling brass.

A more straight-forward development of 12-tone principles appears in the String Quartet (1975), a flowing work in one continuous movement divided into two sections. It uses two tone-rows designed to have overlapping and conflicting properties, enhanced by contrasting timbres and sonorities, at times melodically reminiscent of Schoenberg. A satisfying if unstartling work, it shows Bank's skill at combining clarity of thought and structure with an ease of lyricism that is entirely supported by the use of the rows.

Banks initiated an electronic music studio in Canberra, and taught at the Australian National University and Canberra School of Music, 1973. He was chairman of the Music Board of the Australian Council for the Arts from 1972 to 1974.

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works include:

- series Equations (I and II for jazz group and chamber ensemble, III for jazz quintet, chamber ensemble, and synthesizers)

- horn concerto; violin concerto; Nexus for jazz band and orch.

- Assemblies, Divisions, Dramatic Music, Intersections (with tape), 4 Pieces, and Prospects for orch.

- Meeting Place for chamber orch., jazz groups and synthesizer; Sonata da Camera for chamber ensemble; Form X for 2 to 10 players

- Sequence for solo cello; Three Pieces for clarinet and piano; Three Episodes for flute and piano; Duo for violin and cello; horn trio; 4 Pieces for string quartet; Take Eight for string quartet and jazz quartet

- Pezzo Dramatico for piano; Commentary for piano and tape

- song cycles Settings from Roget and 3 Shorts Songs for jazz singer and jazz quartet; Findings Keepings for chorus, drums and bass; Limbo for soloists, chamber ensemble and tape; Tirade for voice, harp, piano and percussion; Walkabout for children's voices and instruments

- film music

- electronic Shadows of Space

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recommended works:

Violin Concerto (1966)

Tirade (1968) for voice, harp, piano and percussion

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BENJAMIN Arthur

born September 18th 1893 at Sydney

died 9th April 1960 at London

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Arthur Benjamin (not to be confused with the British composer George Benjamin, born 1960), a virtuoso pianist and conductor as well as composer, was together with Grainger one of the first Australian composers to be noticed internationally, partly through his residence in Britain from 1921 (teaching at the Royal Academy from 1926), and a period in North America (1941-1946). He is primarily remembered for his operas and his lighter music. Of the former, the comic The Devil Take Her (1931) and Prima Donna (1933), enjoyed some success, while Mañana (1956) was the first opera televised by the BBC. The most highly regarded is The Tale of Two Cities, (1948-1949), but none have survived in the repertoire. His lighter music includes Cotillon (1938), a suite of dances for orchestra based on 17th-century tunes which is an uninspiring diversion that has retained some popularity in Australia, and the humorous Overture to an Italian Comedy (1937). The jazzy and entertaining little Concertino (1927) for piano and orchestra is heavily influenced by Gershwin and Ravel's piano concertos. His Harmonica Concerto (1953), with a beautiful slow movement, has retained its place as one of the very few serious concertante works for that instrument.

However, the works most likely to be encountered today are the series of Caribbean dances and rags, mostly for piano or two-piano versions, though a number, notably Two Jamaican Pieces (1938), are scored for orchestra. Benjamin had encountered this music touring in the area as a Music Board Examiner, but he himself wrote the pastiche tune for the most celebrated, Jamaican Rumba (the second of the Jamaican Pieces). The calypso style is enormously infectious, and there is a delight in the pianistic adaptation. With its populist, light-music appeal, it essentially lies beyond the scope of this book, though pianists looking for light relief will have fun. Of his more serious works, which include a Violin Concerto (1932) and a Symphony (1944-1945), the Concerto quasi una fantasia (1949) for piano and orchestra was written as a showpiece for his own pianistic powers. Tautly constructed (it ends with a passacaglia) with predominantly lyrical virtuoso piano writing that is indebted to Rachmaninov, it is not individual or interesting enough to warrant more than the rarest revival. His Oboe Concerto (1940) for oboe and strings is actually a reworking of keyboard sonatas by Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801), and, though far more Cimarosa than Benjamin, it is a lithe and gently delightful diversion.

Benjamin flew as a pilot in World War One, and was shot down and captured by the Germans.

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works include:

- symphony; oboe concerto (after Cimarosa); Concertino for piano and strings; Concerto quasi una fantasia; violin concerto; Elegy, Waltz and Toccata for viola and orch.; Romantic Fantasy for violin, viola and orch.

- Caribbean Dance, Cotillon, Divertimento on Themes by Gluck, From San Domingo, Heritage, North American Square Dance, Overture to an Italian Comedy, Red River Jig and Two Jamaican Pieces for orch.

- Ballade for strings; Sonatina for chamber orch.

- Valses Caprices for clarinet (or viola) and piano; cello sonatina; violin sonatina; Le Tombeau de Ravel for viola, cello and piano; 2 string quartets; Pastoral Fantasy for string quartet

- many works for piano and piano four hands

- Nightingale Lane for two voices and piano; Three Impressions for voice and string quartet

- Three Mystical Songs for chorus

- operas The Devil Take Her, Mañana, Prima Donna, The Tale of Two Cities and Tartuffe

- film and incidental music

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recommended works:

calypso piano works

Harmonica Concerto (1953)

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GRAINGER Percy Aldridge

born 8th July 1882 at Melbourne

died 20th February 1961 at White Plains, New York

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Percy Grainger's position is a complete anomaly. His name is familiar to many, his music to few, apart from his orchestral arrangements of traditional folk-songs or original pieces in similar styles that are known everywhere, especially Country Gardens (1925), Handel in the Strand (1913), Molly on the Shore (1913) and the suite Lincolnshire Posy (1937-1938). In these his art is that of the miniature, his ability at arranging such material considerable. What made his arrangements particularly effective is that he kept the rhythmic, vocal, and sometimes dialect irregularities that made the original folk-songs so distinctive, instead of smoothing out such details, as so often happened when folk-songs were transferred outside their original context. The result was to give his arrangements an infectious life and vitality. He was an important early collector of folk-songs in England (1905-1909, including recording songs on portable wax cylinder gramophone equipment), and later in Denmark (1922, 1925, 1927).

However, there was a completely different side to Grainger's work, which has been obscured by his constant revision, the subsequent chaos of material, and the failure to pursue ideas to a completed form. This was entirely experimental, including micro-tones and electronic ideas (using an early electronic instrument, the theremin, in Free Music II, 1935-1936), with the aim of creating a `free music' with a flow of sonorities beyond conventional techniques. Many of these early experiments used folk-song or similar material as their base (an exact contemporary parallel to Ives's experiments in the U.S.A., using hymns or popular tunes as a base), or explored instrumental ideas advanced for their time (such as the arrangement of Debussy's Pagodes for mallet instruments and harmonium, 1918).

The orchestral score The Warriors (begun 1901, reworked 1906, otherwise 1912-1916) shows many of these eclectic ideas, and will come as something of a surprise to those who know only his popular miniatures. Some of the orchestral ideas it contains, while familiar today, were revolutionary at the time: the extra scoring of what Grainger called 'tuneful percussion' (a battery of tuned instruments), a minimum of three pianos, sometimes played with marimba sticks, and two assistant conductors to control offstage forces. These offstage forces sometimes move at a different speed and in a different key to the main body in polyrhythmic and polytonal echoes. It is Grainger's longest continuous score, and has a typical energy and love of bright effect, its use of orchestral forces and polytonal effects sometimes anticipating general practice by two or more decades. But it also shows the weakness of Grainger's experiments: the basic material, sometimes using the type of melody and material preferred in the miniatures, is conventional underneath all the exploration of colour and sonority, a product of the late-Edwardian era and, in terms of large-scale architecture, somewhat out of control. It is perhaps Grainger's failure to find a new musical language to match his aural ideas that has doomed this aspect of his output to relative obscurity. Nonetheless, Warriors will fascinate the curious, especially if the listener concentrates on the wealth of orchestral and colour effects, and it will be of particular interest to those exploring early experiments in ideas that have become familiar later in the century. Similar in concept is The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart (1918-1943) for orchestra, shorter in length but using even larger orchestral forces (including wind band, organ, piano ad. lib. and tuned percussion) that includes free sections for the percussion. The basic material is again straightforward but also less interesting than that of The Warriors; any value lies in the colour effects.

Although much has been made of this experimental aspect of Grainger in some quarters, it had no influence in his lifetime, and little (apart from historical curiosity) since. It may be that as more emerges, the place and effectiveness of these experiments will become clearer; in the meantime, he will continue to be remembered for those catchy miniatures.

Grainger left Australia at the age of 13, and after a period in Europe settled in the U.S.A. in 1914, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1918. He was celebrated as an international concert pianist of flair, including among his concerts one in the Hollywood Bowl to an audience of 20,000, at which he was married. He taught at the Chicago Musical College (1919-1931) and at New York University.

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works include: (due to re-scorings and re-workings, any comprehensive list of Grainger's output is almost impossible to cover here. Readers wishing such information are referred to the entry in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)

- Free Music I and II (performing versions realized by Conyngham; I originally for string quartet, II for two theremins)

- Handel in the Strand, Mock Morris, The Nightingale and the Two Sisters, To a Nordic Princess, The Power of Rome and Christian Heart and The Warriors for orch.

- chamber Hill Song 1 and 2 in various instrumental versions

- many works in folk-song style for various forces

- many arrangements of folk-songs for orch., voice, piano and two pianos

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recommended works:

orchestral miniatures based on folk-songs or similar material

The Warriors (1912-1916) for orchestra

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bibliography:

J. Bird Percy Grainger, the Man and the Music London, 1976

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HILL Alfred

born 16th November 1870 at Melbourne

died 30th October 1960 at Sydney

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Alfred Hill is the grandfather of Australian classical music, occupying a similar position to Sir Ernest MacMillan in Canada. He had the distinction of being born a century, to the very day, after Beethoven, and his staunchly Romantic compositional style was formed by studies in Germany and by playing in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (1887-1891), and then by his discovery of Maori music during periods spent in New Zealand (1892-1896, 1902-1907).

His chief legacy are thirteen symphonies (of which ten are numbered). Eleven of the symphonies are actually re-workings of music written mostly in the 1930s for string quartet or chamber groupings, though their origins are well disguised. Partly reflecting this reworking process, there was a long gap between the Symphony No.1 `The Maori' (1896-1900) and Symphony No.2 `The Joy of Life' (1941, based on Life, 1912 for string quartet, piano, and eight voices) for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Symphony No.3 `Australia' appeared in 1951, and the rest of the symphonies in the last fifteen years of Hill's long life. The Symphony No.4 `The Pursuit of Happiness' (1955) is one of the symphonies originally written as such. It is cast in the unmistakable lyrical style of the late 19th century, with touches of Dvořák, but is exceptionally well crafted, with a natural, logical and buoyant flow and a lucidity of conventional orchestration that makes it an appealing work, allowing for the outdated Romantic idiom. Of the works adapted from chamber music, the Symphony No.6 `Celtic' recasts a string quartet of 1938 and extensively uses Irish folk material, especially jig rhythms, with a direct quotation in the slow movement. Those who enjoy the symphonies of Parry or Harty will respond. The light-touched Symphony in E flat (unofficially No.12, from String Quartet No.13, 1936) has a more intimate, almost neo-classical feel in spite of a short-lived chromatic opening, brighter colours being added by tuned percussion, to slightly disconcerting effect against scoring and material that looks to Schumann in the final movement. The Symphony in A minor (unofficially No.13) is for strings alone, and is based on the String Quartet No.9 (1935), and again has neo-classical overtones, and a rather beautiful and mournful Andantino, its mood immediately contradicted by the jaunty Scherzo.

Hill still occupies an important position in the musical heritage of Australia and New Zealand, even if his work is virtually unknown elsewhere. If his idiom is anachronistic, it is wrought with skill and with a sense of buoyancy, and historically he is an admirable example of a composer maintaining the ideas of his youthful training when attempting to forge a place for his compositions in a very young classical music culture, with no traditions of its own but close ties to a European heritage. Hill was a scholar of Maori music, was Director of the New Zealand Orchestra, and from 1915 taught at the newly founded New South Wales Conservatory. Among his pupils was Antill. From its foundation in 1932 he was active in the early days of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

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works include:

- 13 symphonies (see text: only 10 numbered; No.1 The Maori, No.2 The Joy of Life for soloists, chorus and orch., No.3 Australia, No.4 The Pursuit of Happiness, No.6 Celtic)

- piano concerto; trumpet concerto; viola concerto; violin concerto; Serenade for Flute and Strings

- The Sacred Mountain and other works for orch.; Green Water for narrator and orch.

- 17 string quartets; Life for string quartet, piano and voices and other chamber music

- 72 works for piano

- choral works and operas

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recommended work:

Symphony No.4 (In Pursuit of Happiness) (1955)

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MEALE Richard

born 24th August 1932 at Sydney

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A pianist as well as a composer, Richard Meale is the Australian composer of orchestral music most clearly influenced by the mainstream advances in European orchestral writing, and his voice is powerful enough, if not overtly individual, to interest those following the dissemination of recent European ideas.

Following the composition of his Flute Sonata (1960), the first work to suggest this orientation, he withdrew all his earlier music (although four earlier works, a Flute Concerto, a Sinfonia, Orenda for piano, and the song cycle This I still appear in his acknowledged list of works). A programmatic element, sometimes based on historical associations, plays a strong role in his works, preferring rugged and atmospheric ideas to the picturesque. Spanish influence appears in Los Alborados (1963) for flute, violin, horn and piano and Homage to Garcia Lorca (1964), which exists in versions for two string orchestras and two string groups.

Nocturnes (1967) for orchestra with solo harp, vibraphone and celesta is highly regarded in Australia, its six sections describing the movements of the sun and moon, and their symbolic associations. The rather startling Very High Kings (1968) for orchestra was the first of an intended cycle, The Mystical Voyage of Christopher Columbus. It opens with a massive organ chord against a orchestra holding a hushed chord that emphasises the minor 7th, reminiscent of Messiaen, before launching into an atmospheric evocation, short disjointed phrases struggling against subdued sonorities. There is a wide range of orchestral effect, notably bells and two amplified pianos, and a massive climax. Clouds Now and Then (1969) and Soon It Will Die (1969), both for orchestra, are inspired by Japanese haiku poetry.

A two-year compositional silence preceded Evocations (1972) for oboe and chamber orchestra with violin obbligato, commissioned by Paul Sacher with the virtuoso oboist Heinz Holliger in mind. The evocations of the title refer to the interaction of soloists and orchestra (the latter evoking the former), and musical ideas (notes, chords, fragments) evoking other similar musical materials. Veridian (1978-1979 - the title is a play on various connotations of `green') is similarly atmospheric, with Messiaen again an influence in melodic phrases. It also has a stronger sense of linear progression, with less reliance on fragmentation, than such works as Evocation. With the String Quartet No.2 (1980) Meale, like many other mainstream contemporary composers, switched to a neo-Romantic and lyrical style. His most recent and largest project has been an opera based on perhaps the most famous of Australian novels, Patrick White's Voss, a major departure as Meale's only other acknowledged vocal work (This I, three songs for soprano and piano on verses by Spender) was written in 1955.

Meale himself is a noted interpreter of the piano works of Messiaen, and the influence of the French composer is again evident in Coruscations (1971 - its title refers to rapid flashes of light, as in the Aurora Borealis) for piano, although Messiaen's technique of fragmentation of material is extended into very short phrases and ideas. It is based on the manipulation and transposition of ten basic sonorities. Prominent are widely broken chords high in the keyboard, and the sense of poetic evocation and atmospheric description is maintained.

Meale has taught at the University of Adelaide since 1969.

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works include:

- Clouds Now and Then, Images (Nagauta), Soon it will die, Variations, Very High Kings for orch.; Homage to Garcia Lorca for two string orch. or groups

- flute concerto; Evocations for oboe and chamber orch., with violin obbligato; Nocturnes for vibraphone, harp and celesta and orch.; Sinfonia for piano four hands and string orch.

- flute sonata; Divertimento for violin, piano and cello; 2 string quartets, Los Alboradas for flute, violin, horn and piano; wind quintet; Plateau for wind quintet; Interiors/Exteriors for two pianos and three percussion; Incredible Floridas (Homage to Rimbaud) for flute, clarinet, horn, violin/viola, cello, piano and percussion

- Coruscations, Orenda and Sonatina Patetica for piano

- song cycle This I for soprano and piano

- opera Voss; incidental music; film scores

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recommended work:

Very High Kings (1968) for orchestra

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SCULTHORPE Peter Joshua

born 29th April 1929 at Launceston, Tasmania

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Peter Sculthorpe is one of the best known of his generation of Australian composers. His music has been quite widely performed outside Australasia, and he taught at Yale (1965-1967) and at Sussex University (1971-1972). He is also one of the major Australian composers who, in applying an antipodean orientation to the inheritance of European models, has turned to the concepts and traditions of the Pacific Rim countries, and merged these influences with a personal and evocative response to the Australian landscapes and its indigenous traditions. He remains the most impressive of all Australian composers, who has forged an idiom that is individual and recognizable, draws on European roots, and yet belongs entirely to its own emerging cultural and geographic origins.

His oriental interest was announced in the Sonata for Viola and Percussion (1960), but he came to wider prominence with a series of works titled Sun Music for orchestra. Part of the inspiration was the sun-stark Australian landscape, and the Aboriginal concept of `Dreamtime'; much of the means stems from music of the Far East. The impressive Sun Music I (1965) is rich in the sonorities, static motion, and gongs of Far Eastern ceremonial court music, translated into dense orchestral textures with a strong sense of ritual, and development by alteration of sonorities and textures rather than melodic or rhythmic momentum. Sun Music II (1966-1969) has echoes of Eastern processional street music, the percussion dominating in sounds used to ward away evil spirits. Sun Music III 'Anniversary Music' (1966) sets delicate gamelan sounds, woodwind reminiscent of Chinese or Japanese models, and high strings against gentle static textures, with a favourite device of high scraping strings suggesting bird calls. The melodic content is more direct, and magically and gradually evolves from that Eastern influence to a highly atmospheric evocation of the Australian outback - birdcalls prominent, the rattle of indigenous percussion instruments adding their own unmistakable timbre - before the Far Eastern ritual re-emerges. The more tense and intense Sun Music IV (1967) collects together many of the elements of the earlier works. The four works, with their inherent contrasts, work well as a series to be played in succession, the overwhelming sense of ritual combining with the evocation of landscape to create a forty-minute score of impressive power and impact that manages to be international in its implications while specific in its origins. Sun Music for Voices and Percussion (1966) is a kind of supplement to the series.

The influence of indigenous and aboriginal sounds is overt in The Song of Tailitnama (1974 - the title refers to an Aboriginal totemic centre) for high voice, six cellos and percussion (version for voice and piano, 1984). Originally written for a television documentary, its vivid opening sets a lyrical wordless voice against the clicking sounds of percussion and high scoops using harmonic overtones on the cellos, before a solo cello takes over the melody. The subsequent verses are a wallaby song in Aranda. With the tangible integration of a very different aural culture, this would make a fascinating companion piece to Villa-Lobos' Bachianas brasileiras No.5, which influenced Sculthorpe's work. How the Stars Were Made (1971), written for the virtuoso percussion ensemble Percussions de Strasbourg, is also based on Aboriginal legend, while Port Essington (1977) for string trio and string orchestra is a musical reflection of historical events. The town of the title, an early settlement, was gradually given up to the encroaching bush; the string trio, recalling salon music, is gradually overcome by the more primitive cast of the string orchestra. Mangrove (1979) for orchestra without wind is a reflection of the many associations with that tree, from Sidney Nolan paintings to a New Guinea concept that people are descended from mangroves, and the meaning for Sculthorpe (and also in Elizabethan thought) of `man-woman'. Cast in one movement, short phrases for brass and percussion are contrasted with longer, darker passages, including a melody that uses a gradual phase shift to create echo effects. The multitudinous bird sounds of a mangrove swamp are marvellously captured in the use of high strings, remaining musical while being aurally descriptive. The sense of tropical primitivism is expressed by a section for drums against increasingly wild calls, joined by the long string phrases and then brass, to round off a graphic score.

More obviously neo-Romantic in mood is the Piano Concerto (1983), partly reflecting the death of three friends during its composition. The woodwinds in the orchestra are confined to reed instruments, and even within its more traditional five-movement European cast, some of the ideas stem from traditional Japanese court music, and the repetitions and slow transformations of the piano writing from Balinese gamelan music, backed by similar percussion. The result is rather an unusual and disconcerting mixture, the bright, detailed figurations of the piano regularly setting up textures against lengthier and more conventional material in the orchestra. The shifts between echoes of the Romantic tradition and a soundscape of more dense and unaccustomed origins produce impressive colours and sonorities. Kakadu (1988) for orchestra is an evocation of the sounds of Australia's north, especially birds (the title refers to the German name for the cockatoo).

Of his string quartets, the String Quartet No.8 (1969, subtitled String Quartet Music) has been widely heard through the justified advocacy of the popular Canadian Kronos Quartet. It too immediately evokes bird calls, with high string shrills and harmonics against more conventional melodic material, later combined with gamelan influences and Balinese `rice-pounding' music. However, the predominant mood in this strongly evocative quartet is lyrical, with an often haunting atmosphere in its sectional structure. His major stage works have been Rites of Passage (1972-1973) for soloists, chorus, orchestra and dancers, using Latin texts from Boethius and Southern Aranda poetry, and a television opera, Quiros (1982).

Sculthorpe's voice is distinctive and individual, and his combination of the evocation of the sounds of the Pacific Rim cultures and his native land has created an idiom of its own. His powers of recreating sound images suggest the tactile and visual qualities of sculpture, and should find a ready response in listeners with a wide range of tastes. For those who have never heard contemporary Australian serious music it is a rewarding place to start.

───────────────────────────────────────

works include:

- series Irkanda (No.1 for solo violin, No.2 is the String Quartet No.5, No.4 for violin, percussion and strings)

- series Landscape (No.1 for amplified piano and tape, No.2 for piano quartet)

- series Sun Music (I-IV for orchestra, unnumbered for voices and percussion)

- Dream for any instruments and any number of performers

- guitar concerto; piano concerto; Port Essington for string trio and string orch.

- Earth Cry, Music for Japan, Overture for a Happy Occasion, Rain, Sun Song for orch.

- At the Grave of Issac Nathan, Mangrove and Small Town for chamber orch.

- Cantares for guitars and string quartet; From Tabuh Tabuhan, for percussion and strings (also percussion and wind quintet); Autumn Song, Lament for Strings, Little Suite, 2 Sonatas for Strings and The Stars Turn for strings

- Requiem for solo cello; Alone for solo violin; Songs of Sea and Sky for clarinet and piano; sonata for viola and percussion; The Loneliness of Bunjil for string trio; Tailitnama Song for flute, percussion, violin and cello; Sun Song for recorder quartet; How the Stars Were Made for four percussionists; 12 string quartets (No.7 Red Landscape, No.8 String Quartet Music)

- piano sonatina; Five Night Pieces, Left Bank Waltz and Mountains for piano; Four Pieces for Piano Duet; Koto Music I & II for amplified piano and tape

- Child of Australia for soprano, narrator, chorus and orch.; song cycle Eliza Fraza Sings for soprano, flute and piano; Ketjak for six male voices with tape echo; Love 2000 for rock band, two singers and orch.; The Song of Tailitnama for high voice, 6 cellos and percussion; other shorter vocal works

- music theatre Rites of Passage, Tatea; television opera Quiros

───────────────────────────────────────

recommended works:

The Song of Tailitnama (1974) for high voice, six cellos and percussion

String Quartet No.8 String Quartet Music (1969)

Sun Music I-IV (1965-1967)

───────────────────────────────────────

bibliography:

P. Sculthorpe Sun Music

M. Hannan Peter Sculthorpe, His Music and Ideas 1929-1979, 1982

───────────────────────────────────────

WILLIAMSON (Sir) Malcolm Benjamin Graham Christopher

born 21st November 1931 at Sydney

died 2nd March 2003, London

───────────────────────────────────────

Malcolm Williamson was the first Australian composer to be appointed as Master of the Queen's Musick in Britain (1975, following Sir Arthur Bliss). He settled in London in his early twenties, and his earliest works were influenced by Messiaen (Williamson himself became a virtuoso organist), but his large output quickly became divided into lighter pieces designed to entertain, or to be performed by amateur players, and more weighty works, notably symphonies and concertos. Gradually from the 1960s the former dominated, and in spite of his flirtations with modernisms, his idiom has emerged as essentially conservative, the modern and the conservative sometimes sitting uncomfortably side-by-side. His music increasingly contains something of that quasi-amateur light-heartedness or jolliness that has bedeviled English music for two centuries.

The Symphony No.1 (1957), titled Elevamini, is one of his finer works. It is based, as are some subsequent works, on a tone-row, in this case of eight notes, although the row is designed to give a modal cast. The title comes from Psalm 24 (`Be ye lifted up') and the three movements are programmatic, describing a soul's journey after death. In the contrast between the more searching weight of the outer movements and the lightness of the central movement, a lively Allegretto that delights in dance cross-rhythms, are the seeds of the later split in his style, and the moments of less taut, focused writing presage those of his later less inspired output. The one-movement Symphony No.2 (1969) is quite different, thoughtful and thick-textured. Two other symphonies are not numbered. The Organ Symphony (1960) is for solo organ, in six movements, while the Symphony for Voices (1960) is a setting of poems by the Australian James McAuley for unaccompanied choir.

The Organ Concerto (1961), written for Williamson himself to play, was a tribute to the conductor Sir Adrian (Cedric) Boult, using the germ motto ACB. It has an imposing timpani opening offset by the unlikely colours of a solo harp, joined in an atmospheric milieu by the soloist. But, in spite of the pretentious statements from the organ, a kind of vapid bounciness takes over, complete with little musical jokes, entertaining enough on first hearing, but unable subsequently to sustain interest and at times sounding dangerously similar to Poulenc's incomparably better concerto. The last movement suddenly launches into an idiom culled from Vaughan Williams. With a quasi-mysterious slow movement, it seems a score at times brilliantly suited to a horror-movie spook with a happy ending, at times genuinely affecting, and it is a frustrating experience, as so many of the individual moments are full of promise and interest. It is only fair to say that others may react differently to this curious work, imbued with both Williamson's strengths and weaknesses, and it is therefore recommended to those interested.

Among his finest works is the lyrical Violin Concerto (1965), written as a tribute to Edith Sitwell, which inserts a playful scherzo amongst its otherwise melodious and thoughtful writing, with especially rich and lyrical solo lines set against tough and tragic orchestral writing in the opening movement. Of his other concertos, the Sinfonia Concertante (1958-1961) for piano and orchestra is a vigorous, terse work, recalling Stravinsky. The Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra (Piano Concerto No.2, 1960) was written for Australian amateurs and students. The Piano Concerto No.3 (1962), for all its Romantic overtones combined with gently dissonant features, emerges as a piece of light music suitable as a television-score. With its pseudo-jazz and aimless strings, it is a completely valueless piece apart from the infuriatingly delightful, simple, limpid opening idea of the slow movement, reminiscent of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No.2 (the rest of the movement is as bombastic as its surroundings). The rather disappointing Concerto for Two Pianos and Strings (1973) has a middle movement based on a slow waltz, and shades of Bartók in the finale.

His early operas, Our Man in Havana (1963, based on Graham Greene's famous novel) and English Eccentrics (1964, after Sitwell) were widely admired when they appeared, but failed to maintain a place in the repertoire. His subsequent stage works concentrated on operas for children. His works for smaller instrumental forces include the modernisms of the Piano Sonata No.2 (1957, revised 1971).

His later works, including three more symphonies (No.3, 1972, is The Icy Mirror for soloists, chorus and orchestra, though it is not titled as a numbered symphony; No.4, 1977; No.5 Aquero, 1977), and a considerable body of choral music and masses, as well as music for ceremonial duties as Master of the Queen's Musick, have failed to have any impact.

───────────────────────────────────────

works include:

- 5 numbered symphonies (No.1 Elevamini Symphony, No.3 The Icy Mirror for soloists, chorus and orch., No.5 Aquero); dance symphony The Display; Organ Symphony; Symphony for Voices; sinfonietta

- Concerto Grosso for orch.; 3 piano concertos; concerto for two pianos and strings; concerto for two pianos, 8 hands and wind quintet; violin concerto; Sinfonia Concertante for piano, 3 trumpets and string orch.

- overture Santiago de Espada, Symphonic Variations

- various 'cessations' for audience and orch.

- piano trio; piano quintet; Serenade for flute, piano, violin, viola and cello

- 5 Preludes for piano; two piano sonatas; organ music including Little Carols of the Saints and Peace Pieces (2 vols.)

- song cycles From a Child's Garden, Hammarskjold Portrait, In Place of Belief and other vocal works

- choral-operatic sequence The Brilliant and the Dark; Death of Cuchulain for 5 male voices and percussion; Mass of Christ the King; Little Mass of St. Bernadette; Mass of the People of God; Mass of St. Margaret of Scotland; other choral music

- ballets The Display, Perisynthyon, Spectrum and Sun Into Darkness

- operas Dunstan and the Devils, The Growing Castle, The Happy Prince, Julius Caesar Jones, Our Man in Havana, The Red Sea and The Violins of St. Jacques

───────────────────────────────────────

recommended works:

Organ Concerto (1961)

Symphony No.1 Elevamini (1957)

Violin Concerto (1965)

───────────────────────────────────────

 


 

 


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