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Scenes from a Poet's Life : String Quartet No. 1

by Tom Henry (2015)

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Work Overview

Lawrence Whiffin, the late Australian composer, was my first composition teacher. He was also a wonderful friend of great warmth and humour, a man of strong and frequently acerbic opinions (intellectual, aesthetic and especially political), and on the domestic front, a keen follower of football and a lover of cats. He retained a childlike openness and curiosity about new ideas and music until he died.

Laurie was a pupil of Rene Leibowitz in Paris in the 1950's, and the luminous figure of Arnold Schoenberg (Leibowitz's own teacher) and the Second Viennese School was always in the background. Laurie's works reflected his 26 years living in Europe, particularly in France and Italy. While driven always by a search for truth and inner logic (see 'Schoenberg', above), the surface level is often full of mischief and wit (France, Italy). In short, his works fully reflected his personality.

While not directly programmatic in nature, the various atmospheres in this work reflect the following themes in the life of 'the poet':

the poet glimpses paradise
the poet loses sight of paradise
the poet tries to regain paradise (the poet's life work)
the poet enters paradise…

To quote a passage from a favourite poem by Jorge Luis Borges:

'To transmute the outrage of the years
Into a music, a murmur of voices, and a symbol,
To see in death sleep, and in the sunset
A sad gold - such is poetry,
Which is immortal and poor.

…They say that Ulysses, sated with marvels,
Wept tears of love at the sight of his Ithaca,
Green and humble. Art is that Ithaca
Of green eternity, not of marvels…'

From 'Ars Poetica', by Jorge Luis Borges

(Translated by W.S. Merwin, in Selected Poems 1923-1967 by Jorge Luis Borges. ed. Norman Thomas Di Giovanni: Delacorte Press, 1972)

-- Tom Henry

Work Details

Year: 2015

Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello.

Duration: 13 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Dedication note: Dedicated to Lawrence Whiffin. In memory of Lawrence Whiffin (1931 - 2012).

Commission note: Commissioned by Melbourne Recital Centre, University of Melbourne.. This work was commissioned with support from Majlis Pty Ltd.

First performance: Oct 15. Monstalvat, Eltham & The Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre VIC


Scenes from a Poet's Life

Performances of this work

Oct 15: Monstalvat, Eltham & The Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre VIC

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