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3 August 2016

Writing for Windfall

David Hush Image: David Hush  

Composer David Hush writes about two works for wind instruments, Three Etudes and Night Songs, both written for the Sydney-based ensemble Windfall. An earlier version of this article was published by Fine Music Magazine (June 2016).

Having devoted a fair amount of my creative output to compositions for strings, over the last 14 years, I have been increasingly drawn to writing for wind instruments. Starting with Three pieces for solo flute in 2002, I gradually progressed to writing solo pieces for other wind instruments, such as the clarinet and the bassoon, moving on to chamber works featuring small combinations of winds.

Last year I was commissioned to write a new work for the Sydney-based ensemble Windfall. Entitled Night Songs, the piece received its premiere on 21 June at the Lane Cove Mowbray Anglican Church.

The title was inspired by Goethe's 'Night Song' (1804). In particular, the music seeks to capture three distinct sensations evoked, directly or indirectly, by Goethe's poem: the sense of freedom and release occasioned by looking up at the sky on a starry night; the sense of wistful longing; and the sense of mystery.

Founded in 2002, Windfall is a dynamic Australian ensemble devoted to the performance of chamber music, with a special focus on works for wind quintet and winds with piano. Windfall's collective wealth of musical perception and experience promises audiences vibrant performances and challenging programs, from the music of the baroque and classical eras through to the voices of the present day.

On 26 May 2014 three members of Windfall, Jocelyn Fazzone (flute); Teléna Routh (oboe); and John Cran (bassoon) gave the first performance of my Three Etudes at the Australian Academy of Science. The recital was conceived as a symbolic handshake between music and science in Australia, and was presented by Professor Suzanne Cory AC, President of the Academy.

Following the warm reception to Three Etudes, the players said they looked forward to working with me again, and added that while they would welcome a new trio, they would be especially receptive to a new quintet.

After visiting the ensemble's website and listening to sound samples, the one that really won me over was their stunning rendition of the overture to The Magic Flute. I found it remarkable that this piece scored for full orchestra - a major achievement in its own right - could be played so convincingly by five wind instruments.

The new work seeks to develop specific melodic, harmonic and structural traits as featured in Three Etudes. As an example, the first movement of Three Etudes presents antiphony between the flute and the oboe on the one hand and the bassoon part on the other. While the flute and the oboe articulate fifths in parallel motion, the bassoon plays melodies redolent of ethnic Jewish music.

In the second movement, the flute and the oboe open with parallel fourths. This provides a harmonic background for two solos courtesy of the bassoon. The oboe part then assumes the primary melodic voice with two solos while the flute and the bassoon play in parallel fifths.

In the third movement, the primary melodic role is assigned to the flute. Short motivic fragments set to a fast tempo characterise this part, with the oboe and the bassoon providing harmonic support and complementary motives.

In Night Songs, there are three primary ways in which ideas embodied in Three Etudes are developed. To begin with, while each movement of Three Etudes has much to offer melodically, the relative compactness of each movement ensures that all melodic statements are succinct. Night Songs thoroughly explores the types of melodic articulation to be heard in Three Etudes yet retains a concise template.

Secondly, the most prominent harmonic intervals in Three Etudes are fourths and fifths. Owing to the small instrumentation (three winds) on the one hand and the practice of delegating an independent melodic role to a separate player from those articulating harmonies on the other, each harmony comprises only two notes. In Night Songs, by contrast, with an enlarged sound world of five instruments, the possibilities for harmonic construction based on fourths and fifths are much larger.

Finally, a striking feature of Three Etudes is the rate at which the roles of each instrument undergo transformation: the role of any instrument, or pairs of instruments, remains fixed for only a short time. In Night Songs, with an ensemble approaching twice the number of Three Etudes, the possibilities of transformation have been considerably enriched.

Having been thrilled with the results of the trio's performance of Three Etudes in Canberra, the prospect of writing for the full wind quintet could not have been more challenging or exciting.

I had three rehearsals with this excellent ensemble, each of which proved to be an invaluable learning experience. In the premiere performance, the various changes to details of scoring and points of interpretation previously discussed crystallised with sublime results.

AMC resources

David Hush - AMC profile

Further links

Windfall - homepage (www.windfall.net.au)

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