MCO’s Blazing Trails can be heard on Thursday 30 May 7:30pm and Sunday 2 June 2:30pm at Melbourne Recital Centre.



Florence Price (1887–1953)
Folksongs in Counterpoint (arr Peter Stanley Martin)
II. Clementine. Andantino
III. Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes. Andante cantabile
IV. Several Folk Songs. Allegro
V. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Andantino

Florence Beatrice Price was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887 and died in Chicago in 1953. She is considered the first African American woman to gain recognition as a symphonic composer in the USA. Her first symphony was premiered by the Chicago Symphony in 1933.

The Folksongs in Counterpoint was originally written for string quartet with the title Negro Folk Songs in Counterpoint. The work was revised, and two more movements added in the early 1950s with the title Five Folk Songs in Counterpoint.

The composer’s note in the Schirmer edition of the score includes:

No. 2 is based upon “Clementine,” a ballad which became a favourite during the Reconciliation period. It was popular in San Francisco, California near the end of the 19th century and is often sung now-a-days by college and community groups.

No. 3 “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes” was sung by settlers on the Eastern coast of America before the days of the American Revolution…the words of which were written by Ben Johnson in 1616 and sung to a tune of unknown origin as early as 1770…and is authoritatively included in published volumes of folk songs.

No. 4 Several folk songs

No. 5 “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” Well-known and one of the best-loved American Negro folk tunes.

William Runyan, writing for Earsense, said, “these movements are manifestly not the usual simplistic arrangements of folksongs one often encounters. Anyone capable of the composition of sophisticated symphonies can and will do much more. Accordingly, they—notwithstanding the recognizable use of folk material—are miniature essays in contrapuntal treatment.”

Natalie Williams (b 1977)
Steeling Fire for percussion and strings
I. Dust and Fire
II. Reverie
III. Mechanica

Natalie Williams (b 1977) is a composer, academic and artistic manager. Her music has been commissioned and performed in Australia, the United States and Europe. Commissions include multiple works for orchestra, opera, chamber ensembles, multi-media, vocal ensembles, and soloists. A performing arts leader, she worked as a University Dean of the Performing Arts in the United States and has held faculty positions in music theory and composition at the University of Georgia and the Australian National University. Research interests include music theory pedagogy and post-tonal composition. Natalie holds a Graduate Certificate in Management from the Australian National University and a Doctoral degree from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

The composer writes: this concerto uses only metal instruments of the percussion family, as a textural homage to the output of the steelworks. Pitched instruments of a vibraphone and crotales are paired with an array of unpitched metallic instruments, including anvils, cymbals, brake drums and gongs. The work asks for actual metal tools to also be used as percussion instruments, including a set of five hammerheads along with a chime tree made up of hanging drill bits. A waterphone and a wind gong add resonant sounds to the slow- moving central movement, and show the wide range of textures available from the metallic members of the percussion battery.

The opening movement, Dust and Fire, explores extremes of sound and texture, where the ensemble and soloist function as both the dust and the furnace. Steelmaking involves heating iron-ore to thousands of degrees, to produce the refined final steel substance. The deep rumbling and soaring unison passages of this movement act to graphically depict the dust and fire coming together through the steel making process.

The Reverie movement functions as a nostalgic chorale, depicting the voices of migrant women who worked at Port Kembla, but who longed for their European homes. The solo violin outlines melodic fragments based upon a Macedonian folksong, “Izlegol neve peo” (he goes out) sung by folk singer Vaska Ilieva. The violin’s falling stepwise melodies feature a consistent half-step motion, reminiscent of sighing or languishing in distant memories. The folksong carries a narrow pitch range with a consistently falling melodic line. Underneath the two solo instruments, the string ensemble carries a slow-moving chorale which moves in a 34-chord cycle. This numerology represents the 34 women involved in the High Court case against the Port Kembla steelworks in 1994 (bars 6-45).

The third movement, Mechanica, represents the physical grandeur of the steel plant, the blast furnace, the strip mills and its huge mechanical components. Musical figures include a low bass rumbling, striking and aggressive rhythmic passages in the strings, and light-filled, high-pitched textures with the percussion soloist. This movement showcases the entire metallic range of the percussionist’s assembly, frequently switching between pitched and unpitched sounds, depicting the fast pace and frightening enormity of the steelworks itself.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)

Concerto in C major RV443 (arr vibraphone)
I. [Allegro]
II. Largo
III. Allegro molto

Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) is regarded as one of the most original and influential Italian composers of his generation. His contributions to musical style, violin technique and the art of orchestration were substantial. Although not an inventor of musical forms, he creatively adapted, refined and expanded them. His output was prodigious, and he wrote across a range of genres including masses, vespers, motets, cantatas, oratorios and operas. His instrumental works include solo sonatas, trio sonatas, sinfonia, and concerti. He wrote approximately 500 concerti with about 350 for solo instrument and strings, including violin, viola d’amore, cello, oboe, flute, bassoon, mandolin and recorder. The concerti generally follow the three-movement plan of fast-slow-fast. It is within this form that we start to see the development of the role of the soloist—particularly in the first movement.

The Concerto in C RV443 was composed in 1728-29 for ‘Flautino’ or soprano/descant recorder. Today’s performance has the solo part performed on vibraphone.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Quartet No 11 in F minor Op 95 (arr string orchestra Gustav Mahler)
I. Allegro con brio
II. Allegretto ma non troppo
III. Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
IV. Larghetto espressivo

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) composed chamber music across a wide range of genres—from instrumental solo sonatas to trios, quartets, quintets and more in various combinations of instruments. His string quartets are among the most important pillars of the chamber music repertoire. They build on the works of Haydn and Mozart and are in many ways the point of reference to the future development of the genre.

Quartet no 11 in F minor was composed in Vienna over 1810 and 1811, and is dedicated to his friend Count Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz. First performed in 1814, the work was published in 1816 as Op 95. Beethoven wrote to the English musician Sir George Smart, “the quartet is written for a small circle of connoisseurs and is never to be performed in public.”

Given the title “Serioso” by the composer, the work is one of his shortest quartets. It is packed with intensity and drive and we see the composer experimenting with a diverse range of ideas and techniques. The opening Allegro con brio is brisk and abrupt and is contrasted with a melodic second theme that forms the basis of the movement in sonata form. The Allegretto ma non troppo displays contrast between the opening interweaving melody that merges into sections of contrapuntal writing. The fierce Allegro assai vivace ma serioso is balanced with two trio sections. The final movement is introduced by a melancholy Larghetto espressivo that is followed by the Allegretto agitato with its sudden and abrupt changes bringing the work to a dazzling conclusion.

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) made arrangements and editions of chamber works and symphonies by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brucker. In his early years as conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic he arranged three strings quartets (Beethoven Op 95 and 131, and Schubert ‘Death and the Maiden’ D810) for string orchestra. The only one of these arrangements he performed was Beethoven’s Op 95 and it was premiered in January 1899 to booing and hissing from the audience.

It should be noted that the arrangement shows considerable restraint by doubling some of the cello lines with the double bass, and making no changes to Beethoven’s music.

Program Notes: David Forrest