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String ensembles


Australian chamber music for string ensembles

Alfred Hill was one of the most prolific composers of string quartets, having been violist in the resident quartet at the NSW Conservatorium from 1924. Shortly after Hill’s death in 1960, his widow, Mirrie Hill, gave Musica Viva Australia money to establish a quartet commission in his memory, and the first works that emerged were Peter Sculthorpe’s Sixth and Larry Sitsky’s First. Musica Viva had ‘invited’ composers to submit works for its 1962 season, and premiered Felix Werder’s Sixth Quartet. Of that generation Richard Meale and Nigel Butterley have also produced a significant body of work – Meale’s Second Quartet was a catalyst for his conversion to diatonicism; works by Anne Boyd and Ross Edwards appeared in the 1970s.

The 1980s saw composers like Barry Conyngham, Michael Smetanin and Gerard Brophy use the medium as an exciting vehicle for ‘avant-garde’ techniques, and in this they have been followed by the likes of Brett Dean, Elliott Gyger, Damien Ricketson and David Chisholm. Carl Vine (with five quartets to his credit), Graeme Koehne and Andrew Ford have pursued a complementary, classicizing path.

The quartet forms the basis for larger ensembles – Georges Lentz augments the group with four suspended cymbals in one work and there a numerous pieces with added soloist. Brett Dean and Carl Vine composed string quintets in 2009.

Representative works

  Work Notes
Lace (1985) by Gerard Brophyis anything but delicate.
High tension wires (1994) by Nigel Westlakea four-movement work characterised by this composers usual sense of momentum.
String quartet no. 4 (1995) a work of transcendent expansive beauty.
Rush (2002) by Matthew Hindsonexists in version for guitar or oboe and quartet.
Soli (2003) by Elliott Gygerfocuses on a different member of the quartet in each movement.
Goodison quartet no. 1 (2004) by Gordon Kerryis an extended song cycle for mezzo-soprano and quartet.

Broader categories of String ensembles