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Program note: Dorian Le Gallienne's "Sinfonietta"

  • by Judith Martyn-Ellis
  • Source: Published by Symphony Services

Dorian Le Gallienne


Andante molto tranquillo

Allegro con spirito

Dorian Le Gallienne was born in Melbourne, to an Australian mother and French father. Studies in composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium were followed by a period as a student at the Royal College of Music in London, where his tutors were Herbert Howells and Arthur Benjamin. A Commonwealth Jubilee Music Scholarship in 1951 enabled Le Gallienne to return to England, where he spent two years writing music and undertaking private tuition with Gordon Jacob. Works dating from this period include his unpublished First Symphony and his Sinfonietta (1951-56). Noel Nickson believes Le Gallienne’s influences to have been ‘the English lyrical style popular in Australian instrumental music of the 1930s, light French wit and buoyancy, and the bitonality of early Stravinsky and later Bartók’.

On his death in 1963, Le Gallienne was missed as a superb musical and social critic and composer. He worked until his early death as a music critic for The Age, initially to earn the money to support his composing career, but increasingly for the love of it and for his desire to support local amateur and semi-professional performers. His reviewing was famed for its fairness and integrity, but also, characteristically, for its support and generosity towards the performers. Harsh criticism, when it did come, was towards performances by professional organisations such as the ABC, and directed at the lack of support given to local talent.

His social criticisms included the rarity of performances of contemporary works from both overseas and Australia. Le Gallienne’s power in the media enabled him to foster the performance of Australian music, with his withdrawal of his own work (in protest because it was the only Australian work programmed) from the 1956 Olympic Arts Festival, resulting in the inclusion of a major Robert Hughes composition. Le Gallienne reported in The Age that ‘Without his name in the programs I was not happy to have my own name included. We could, of course, have done a lot better. We could have included works by Margaret Sutherland and Felix Werder.’

Le Gallienne suffered greatly in later years from ill health, with heart trouble lessening his strength, already greatly depleted by diabetes, and overwork on his critical writing (voluntarily reviewing up to four concerts each week) leaving him little time for his composing. After his death, the many tributes and eulogies expressed the loss Australian musicians felt at his passing. Of these, perhaps the most eloquent was written by Le Gallienne’s close friend, pianist Nancy Weir: ‘[his] personality expressed a reverence for truth, a fearless integrity, a compassionate heart, a profound love and solicitude for Australia, and a militant vigilance over meretricious influences in our musical life.’

The composer has written of the Sinfonietta:

This short work is the result of an attempt to write music that is neat, pleasing and easy to follow. It was sketched in England in 1951 and completed in 1956, and is scored for a small orchestra of strings, woodwind and two horns.

The first subject of the opening movement, in sonata form, is announced at once by the violins, and repeated by cellos and bassoons with a counter-subject, rather like a chime of bells, added above it. This counter-subject is later heard as a canon between the two horns, and introduces the second subject, a more lyrical tune announced by the clarinet, which is also derived from it. The development section opens with the first subject and gradually rises to a climax culminating in a short cadenza for the clarinet. A horn call over a growling ostinato string figure leads to the recapitulation which is quite regular.

The slow movement is in three-part form, the opening pastoral melody being announced by the oboe. The middle section consists of a broader tune for the cellos, accompanied by light scale passages for the strings and a rocking figure shared by clarinet and flute. The scale passages persist for some time after the return of the pastoral tune, and the rocking figure reappears briefly in the coda.

The finale is a simple rondo, with a slightly cock-eyed martial tune for its main subject. This is rounded off by a cadence theme for oboe and bassoons, which is the basis of the first episode, a chromatic semi-quaver figure heard high in the violins against a figure of repeated notes for flutes and clarinets. When this has died away, the clarinet produces a version of the rondo tune proper, this time on piccolo. The tail-end of this tune is treated briefly in three-part counterpoint, to lead to the second episode, where the same tail-end is heard in longer notes to form a more expressive tune. The final return of the rondo theme brings a little more development and the cadence theme that follows rounds off the movement.

Judith Martyn-Ellis, Symphony Australia ©1998
Please do not reprint without permission of editor@symphony.net.au


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