Sea chronicles : five songs for soprano and string quartet
by Paul Stanhope (1998)
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Sea Chronicles is a song cycle for soprano and string quartet which celebrates various dimensions of our coastal environment. For Australians, the coast and ocean have an iconic place in our collective conscience with associations of leisure, relaxation, open-ness and possibility and also of terrifying power. Most of the texts in this piece (all by Australian poets) emphasize the celebrative and reflective qualities of the sea rather than following the European tradition of the sea as a metaphor for human struggle.
Most of the songs simply present images of the sea - pictures, in fact, for contemplation. The text of the central third movement, while also painting a vivid picture, has a stronger sense of narrative than the other texts: it plays out the drama of a Lifesaver who dies in the course of rescuing others. The Lifesaver can be viewed as a Christ-like figure (suggested by a veiled reference to the Bach chorale "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded" in the central slow section) who sacrifices himself as an upholder of the Australian coastal lifestyle. Sea Chronicles thus examines the notion of danger as being an essential part of the beauty and attraction of the sea.
Instrumentation: Soprano, 2 violins, viola, cello.
Duration: 18 min.
Difficulty: Advanced — Professional/good amateur.
Commission note: Commissioned by Elektra String Quartet.
First performance: by Morning Star String Quartet — 18 Dec 98.
Texts taken from: 'The nightingale' by Victor Daley, and 'Sea chronicles' by Rex Ingamells (song I) ; 'By the sea' by George Essex Evans (song II) ; 'Life saver' by Elizabeth Riddell (songs III and IV) ; 'The swimmer' by Adam Lindsay Gordon (song V).
Awarded 3rd prize in the Kazimierz Serocki Inernational Composition Prize (Poland) in 2000.
Resonate article: 2012 Art Music Awards - comments by judging panels by Australian Music Centre
Performances of this work
27 Aug 2016: at Allotropy! with Rosemary Ball - Resonance Music Series (Bayside Arts & Cultural Centre (BACC), Brighton Town Hall). Featuring Beatrix Pickett, Michelle John, Rosemary Ball, Emma Hunt, Katriona Tsyrlin.
21 Jun 00: Lutowslawski Concert Hall, Warsaw, Poland
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My favourite Australian art song repertoire
Posted by Australian Music Centre on 22 July, 2013
The AMC asked leading practitioners to select their favourite Australian art song repertoire, to provide delegates to the 2013 International Conference of Vocal Teachers (Brisbane 2013) with an introduction to this rich and diverse landscape.
5 songs in which Stanhope takes full advantage of the range of beautiful timbral possibilities of what I think of as a dream line-up: soprano and string quartet.