About this Recording
8.570949 - Australian Guitar Music - EDWARDS, R. / HOUGHTON, P. / SCULTHORPE, P. / KOEHNE, G. / DEAN, B. (Tsiboulski)

Australian Guitar Music


Over recent years the classical guitar in Australia has become a cultural presence of global significance. This is not entirely surprising. In the first instance, one of the greatest international guitarists of the last five decades, John Williams (b. 1941, Melbourne), claims that country as his true nationality and has remained a constant inspiration to some of the composers included in this selection. Moreover, Greg Smallman (b. 1947, Cronulla, New South Wales), the Australian luthier, revolutionised the basic principles of guitar construction and his instruments are now among the most coveted possessions for concert players of all nationalities.

Younger guitarists such as Timothy Kain (b. 1951, Braidwood, New South Wales) and Craig Ogden (b. 1967, Perth) have established themselves as formidable virtuosi on the world stage while the renowned Darwin International Guitar Festival attracts many artists and guitar enthusiasts from Europe and the United States. The much admired British recitalist Julian Byzantine (b. 1945) moved to Australia in 1981 to become Head of Guitar Studies at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Brisbane, whilst various leading Australian players have taken up residence in Europe in a reciprocal interchange of creative abilities. The jewel in the crown has been the participation of leading Australian composers who have discovered in the guitar a profoundly expressive voice entirely appropriate for the complexities and intensities of contemporary music.

Ross Edwards (b. 1943, Sydney), studied composition at the University of Sydney where he worked for a while as an assistant to Peter Sculthorpe. Following lessons at the University of Adelaide with Peter Maxwell Davies, Edwards moved to England for further study with Davies and spent some time living in a Yorkshire farmhouse before returning to Australia in 1972. His compositions include symphonies and concertos, chamber and choral music, children’s pieces, film scores and solo vocal and instrumental works. Edwards began writing for guitar in 1994, receiving advice and encouragement from several Australian guitarists. His Concerto for Guitar and Strings, was commissioned by Adrian Walter for John Williams, who gave the first performance with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra at the 1995 Darwin International Guitar Festival. Later Timothy Kain performed this concerto in Melbourne, and, with the assistance of the Australia Council, commissioned Blackwattle Caprices.

The composer has described Blackwattle Caprices (1998) as ‘light but intricate pieces, the first a song, the second a dance, or more exactly a maninya (Australian dance or chant)’. Blackwattle Bay, an inlet of Sydney Harbour, is close to where Ross Edwards lives, hence the title. The three Guitar Dances (1994), arranged by Adrian Walter, provide an integrated triptych. The first of these combines folk elements with neo-romantic melodic lines, suggesting the spirit of the dance rather than any specific genre. The meditative second dance is nocturnal in mood, opening with mysterious echoes and sinister sonorities, a kind of danse macabre of the night’s dark spaces with dramatic silences. The final dance begins with insistent rhythmic chords in perpetual motion, broken into by melodic fragments.

Though Phillip Houghton (b. 1954, Melbourne) has described his first musical interests as being in the area of rock, jazz and folk, he eventually decided to take lessons in classical guitar at the Melba Conservatorium of Music. After that he studied privately with Sebastian Jorgenson to whom he dedicated his first guitar composition, God of the Northern Forest(1989). In 1982 he received his only formal tuition in composition from Helen Gifford (b. 1935). He has written music for a variety of acoustic and electronic media as well as for theatre, film and dance. His guitar works have won wide international esteem and been performed by many leading performers including John Williams, Carlos Bonell, Julian Byzantine, Timothy Kain, Eleftheria Kotzia, and Craig Ogden.

The composer has commented: ‘Stélé is strongly influenced by Greek art and mythology and the Grecian landscape. The word ‘stélé’ itself describes a headstone or monument, often erected on the coastline in memoriam of sailors and travellers lost at sea, or those never to return to their homeland. In a sense, they were beacons for lost souls. The Stélé of Demokleides, which depicts the image of a lost sailor seated alone on a cliff, his head buried in his hands, provided great inspiration for the entire work and, in particular, the first movement. The next movement, Dervish, is based on the statue of the mad galloping horse and jockey of Artemision, its musical form being a response to the ecstatic dance of the Whirling Dervishes. The third movement, Bronze Apollo—in two sections, a) Premonition and b) Arpeggio, and inspired by the magnificent early bronze figure Piraeus Apollo—bears the subtitle ‘Copper, Bronze, Water, Air, Green, Perfume’. Web, a short relentless drone that compresses and weaves elements used in the preceding three movements, closes the solo.’

Peter Sculthorpe (b. 1929, Launceston, Tasmania), studied at the University of Melbourne and Wadham College, Oxford, and is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney. He has taught at many conservatories and universities and holds honorary degrees from Tasmania, Melbourne, Sussex, Griffith and Sydney. Having been awarded the OBE in 1977, he was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia in 1990. His prolific output of more than 350 works includes compositions for orchestra, choirs, chamber orchestra and smaller ensembles, as well as ballets and film music, and instrumental pieces. John Williams has made the following observations: ‘Peter Sculthorpe is known for developing a musical style or language inspired by and descriptive of the unique landscape and physical nature of Australia…The more I heard of his music, the more I tried to persuade him to write for guitar, to give it a voice in his powerful and evocative musical language. He takes advantage of the guitar’s more universal sound qualities, the time and space between its plucked notes, and the resonances within the instrument. ‘From Kakadu (1993), dedicated to John Williams, refers to the terrain of the Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, which stretches from the rugged mountain plateau to coastal tidal plains. It is the composer’s sixth work related to this area and part of it is based on the main theme of his orchestral piece Kakadu (1988). The composer has pointed out that the work is in four sections, of which the first and third, Grave and Misterioso, are based upon the Kakadu melody. The fourth section ‘grows from it into a long, singing line’. Peter Sculthorpe adds: ‘The work is an intimate one, being concerned with the deep contentment that I feel whenever I return to Kakadu. This feeling is ever-present in the dancelike second section, and in the singing line, and its counterpoint, of the final Cantando.’

Into the Dreaming (1994), another work written especially for John Williams and dedicated to the memory of the novelist Maggie Hemingway, was inspired by ‘a quiet solitary walk in the Valley of the Winds at Katajuta, in Uluru National Park in central Australia’. The work is in three sections with a short coda, ‘dominated throughout by a yearning melody’. The composer has intended here to ‘exploit the resonance of open strings, the long-held pedal notes being symbolic of the didjeridu’. Djilile (1986), originally a piano piece, was arranged for the guitar by Stephen Wingfield, the Canadian composer and guitarist. The opening melody is a transcription of a chant from Arnhem Land, Northern Australia, collected in the late 1950s by Professor A.P. Elkin. The title means ‘whistling duck on a billabong’. John Williams gave the first performance at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on 5 October 2003.

Graeme Koehne (b. 1956, Adelaide), a graduate of the University of Adelaide, studied composition with Richard Meale. In 1984 a Harkness Fellowship enabled him to work at Yale, and to take lessons with Louis Andriessen and Virgil Thomson. On moving back to Australia in 1987, he was appointed Lecturer in Composition at the University of Adelaide. His output includes a number of ballets and orchestral works, chamber music (including a Guitar Quartet), solo instrumental and vocal pieces. A Closed World of Fine Feelings and Grand Design was commissioned and given its first performance by Timothy Kain with funds provided by the Australia Council. The composition, in ternary form, develops from introspective chordal groupings building in intensity through repetition. A middle section modifies the texture to include the treble strings, with arpeggiated chords providing a vivid contrast, before the recapitulation of the first part.

Brett Dean (b. 1961, Brisbane), composer and viola player, moved to Germany in the 1980s to become a member of the esteemed Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2000 he returned to Australia to concentrate on composing. His works include experimental film and radio projects, concertos, operas, chamber music, and instrumental pieces. A wide variety of leading orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Cologne Philharmonic, have commissioned his music. The guitarist, Andrew Booth, gave the world première of Brett Dean’s Three Caprichos after Goya in 2007. The famous eighty Caprichos, featuring satirical etchings of aspects of Spanish life, by the painter Francisco Goya (1746–1828), have inspired many composers over the years to interpret them through music. A prerequisite for such pieces is that the listener should understand the meaning of the original picture. Brett Dean begins his trio of compositions with ¡Qué sacrificio! (What a Sacrifice!), which depicts a young and beautiful girl being delivered by her sorrowful parents into the clutches of a rich but ancient hunchback, a marriage arrangement which will provide the family with security but at the expense of their daughter’s happiness. The music evokes disturbance and misery through repeated notes and intermittent strummed chords, drawing on Spanish flamenco idioms. This first Capricho concludes with rapid descending scales, creating images of menace and exploitation. Dios la perdone: Y era su madre (May God forgive her: and it was her mother), shows in the original etching a fashionably attired and sophisticated woman (possibly a prostitute), being asked for money by an old lady who happens to be her mother. It may be that the young woman does not realise it is her mother or is deliberately ignoring her, a haughty posture being contrasted against the bent supplicant. Hence the composition takes the form of a kind of dialogue, the pleading voice of the beggar being heard loud and clear. Finally, No te escaparás (You will not escape) is the image of a beautiful dancer pursued by huge ugly birds to whom she will fall prey sooner or later. The composer presents the dance enacted within its sinister environment of imminent evil, once again with a strong Iberian atmosphere.

Graham Wade

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