On Saturday 1 October, AYO Chamber Players will present a diverse program of chamber music at the QSO Studio. But what exactly is chamber music?
If you define it as a small group of musicians performing in an intimate setting without a conductor, the genre dates all the way back to the 15th century. Familiar compositional forms such as the string quartet and piano trio were solidified three hundred years later, by figures such as Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Chamber music has continued to evolve; composers working in the 21st century can draw on the rich history that precedes them while also experimenting with form, extended techniques and sound worlds. The six ensembles participating in AYO Chamber Players will work on an extensive list of repertoire reflecting this growth, while also including pieces from the Classical and Romantic era. Excerpts from this list will be performed in concert at QSO Studio on Saturday 1 October.
To learn more about some of the newer compositions the ensembles will be working on, read on below! Part 1 of this two-part series can be found here
Paul Stanhope My Song is Love Unknown (2000)
Program notes by the composer via the Australian Music Centre:
The title My Song is Love Unknown is taken from a hymn tune by John Ireland. I was initially attracted to this hymn tune because of its sense of compassion and pathos, during a time when, it seemed to me, the English-speaking world was edging towards authoritarianism, especially in regard to the treatment of its most vulnerable citizens.
Musically, this piano quartet is quite like a Chorale Prelude in that it uses a well known sacred melody and then weaves new material around it. In a structural sense, it is also similar to a set of variations, the main difference being that only fragments of the tune are heard at one time until the very end, where the tune is heard in its entirety for the first time.
Written in a symmetrical form with seven small conjoining sections, the piece is structured according to the progression of the hymn tune. The material begins lyrically but gradually becomes more diffuse. In the central panel the music becomes increasingly argumentative as fragments of the hymn tune are juxtaposed against the increasingly assertive accompanying textures. Here the ambiguities of conflict do not so much resolve as decide to co-exist as the tension dissipates. Tonal ambiguities persist even as we hear John Ireland’s beautiful hymn stated in its entirety for the first time.
Nigel Westlake Piano Trio (2003)
Liner notes from 2006 CD The Hinchinbrook Riffs / Nigel Westlake on Tall Poppies label:
Veiled string melodies and flowing piano gestures form the basis for the opening of the work. The sustained lyricism rapidly gains momentum, becoming increasingly excitable and aggressive in nature for a brief period. The energy is quickly dissipated, pointing towards a calm, yet unresolved ending.
The second movement is music of a contemplative nature, providing a stark contrast to the extrovert energy of the two outer movements. The piano supports a dialogue between violin and cello, underpinning the colour and intensity of the melodic contours with repetitive accompaniment figures and chordal gestures.
The final movement is a challenging and virtuosic scherzo featuring a dazzling display of furious semiquaver passages, aggressive rhythmic devices and whimsical, jazz influenced melodies.
The Piano Trio was commissioned by The Macquarie Trio (resident at Macquarie University) for their 2003 National Subscription Series with generous financial assistance from the Australia Council.
Samuel Barber Summer Music (1955)
Program notes by musicologist Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley:
American composer Samuel Barber (1910–1981) wrote Summer Music in 1955, to fulfill a commission from the Chamber Music Society of Detroit (it was financed, remarkably for the time, through public donations similar to today’s crowdfunding campaigns). Although the work was premiered in March 1956 by the principal players of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Barber composed it with the New York Wind Quintet in mind. After initially meeting the group’s members in January 1955, he observed them working in rehearsal, during which they explored techniques of producing unique sonorities as an ensemble. When the Quintet read through the finished work for the first time, flutist Samuel Baron expressed delight at what the composer had created for them: “We were completely gassed! What a wonderful new quintet conception. [Barber] has written some of our favourite effects.” After the premiere, Barber decided to shorten the piece, in consultation with the Quintet, to the final version that is performed today.
Summer Music unfolds continuously in one movement, structured as a series of episodes during which main themes are presented and return. It opens with a slow introduction featuring a gentle pulsating theme first introduced by the horn and bassoon, evoking the languor of a hot summer’s day or night. A tender melody of darker character follows, a kind of melancholy serenade played by the oboe. The mood lifts, with the instruments “chattering” on a playful rhythmic motive, after which an even livelier section of shifting rhythmic patterns ensues. The principal themes are then reintroduced in reverse order. Later, a new urgency takes hold, intensifying to a grand climax; it eventually dissolves, returning to the opening mood before the ensemble closes with a virtuosic flourish.