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7 February 2017

New book: The Music of Carl Vine (Wildbird)


Carl Vine Image: Carl Vine  

Rhod McNeill writes about his new book The Music of Carl Vine, just out on Wildbird Music. For all book details and purchases, please see the AMC Shop page.

In July 1997, I heard the televised premiere of Carl Vine's Piano Concerto No.1 and was utterly blown away by the strength and confidence of the music. For me, it was the most exciting Australian music that I had ever heard - I drew the impression that Carl Vine was a composer of world ranking.

I had been teaching music in Indonesia for the 10 years between 1985 and 1995 and was largely unaware of the major trends occurring in Australian music of that period. In January 1996, I took up a position as Lecturer in music history and theory at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba. There, during the period around the turn of the century, I heard several performances of Vine's Piano Sonata No.1 - a grittier work than the concerto and powerfully compelling. The sonata more than held its own with the well-known works that normally filled a Toowoomba piano recital. My awareness of Vine as a composer of symphonies led me to explore much earlier Australian music in a search for previous symphonic practices in this country. Over some 10 years of research into pre-1960 Australian symphonies, I uncovered over 60 Australian symphonies composed between 1893 and 1960.

As some readers will be aware, my book The Australian Symphony from Federation to 1960 appeared in early 2014 and, almost immediately, I commenced research on a second volume which would survey Australian symphonic composition from the '60s to the present. Brian Howard, the founding editor of his Wildbird series of books on Australian composers (presently consisting of books on Peter Sculthorpe, Richard Meale and Nigel Butterley) and my former tutor at the University of Melbourne, then offered me the task of writing a book on Carl Vine for the series. I took this project up with enthusiasm; apart from anything else, the work on Vine would give me a head start on the second Australian symphony volume.

Following the gathering of a complete set of scores and two days of interviews with Carl in January 2015, I secured a study leave period from the University of Southern Queensland in the first half of 2016 to write and complete the book. The Music of Carl Vine is the first book about the composer. It is a survey and description of over 80 concert works.

Owing to the size of Vine's output from 1973 to 2016, I have left out detailed accounts of Vine's music for dance, film and electronics in this treatment. Beginning with a short introduction outlining the framework of Vine's career, chapter one is an account of the three piano sonatas, the sets of piano miniatures and the Sonata for piano four hands. This enables the reader to observe the characteristics of Vine's idiom in melody, harmony and texture on two (or three and four) staves. These are all mature works, covering the period 1990 to 2011, and are Vine's best-known works at present.

Chapters two and three cover the works for chamber ensemble in chronological order, showing how Vine's musical style developed from its modernist roots, through the major transformation into expanded tonality (1984-85) into his mature style. Key works include Miniature III and Miniature IV, the five string quartets and more recent works for string quintet, piano quintet and piano trio. Chapter four explores Vine's works for solo voice and ensemble and the works for choir, including his most recent cantata for soloists, choirs and orchestra, Wonders, which was premiered in Sydney in September last year. Vine's shorter pieces for orchestra including concert overtures and the remarkable tone poem Descent are the focus in chapter five. The seven symphonies, the major symphonic ballet Legend and the Concerto for Orchestra are described in chapter six.

Vine's extensive output of concertante works appear in Chapter seven, including the two major concertos for piano, concertos for violin, cello, oboe and trombone (the last of which was premiered in Chicago in October last year and is to be played in Sydney in April). A concise postlude then provides a concluding summary of Vine's compositional 'finger-prints' and an evaluation of Vine's output, underlining the consistency and importance of this body of work.

It is my hope that the book will draw many musicians and music-lovers to the scores and recordings of Vine's music for themselves and, through these, encourage them to explore further the rich and rewarding world of contemporary Australian concert music that remains to be documented. At the time of writing, Carl Vine is at work on String Quartet No.6, for an August 2017 world premiere (for the Music Viva Australia tour by the Tak√°cs Quartet) and an American premiere at Carnegie Hall in October. The book will help to put Carl's new works into context as they appear in the future.

AMC resources

The Music of Carl Vine by Rhoderick McNeill (Wildbird, january 2017) - all book details and purchases (AMC Shop)

Carl Vine - AMC profile


Rhoderick McNeill is Professor of Music and Head, School of Arts and Communication at the University of Southern Queensland. His book The Australian Symphony from Federation to 1960 (Ashgate 2014) represents the first stage of a planned survey of the symphony in Australia from the late colonial period to the present. His latest book The Music of Carl Vine is just out from Wildbird Music. 


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