CONCERT NOTES: Crystalline Voices

MCO’s Crystalline Voices can be heard on Thursday 18 July 7:30pm and Sunday 21 July 2:30pm at Melbourne Recital Centre and on tour to Geelong + Mornington.



Ida Moberg
Orchestral Suite Sunrise
IV. Stillness (1909)

Ida Moberg (1859-1947), a Finnish composer and conductor, initially studied piano and singing, and later counterpoint and composition (with Jean Sibelius). Her studies took her to the St Petersburg Conservatory and then the Dresden Conservatory. From 1911 to 1912 she completed the course of training at the Dalcroze Institute in Berlin, and from 1914 she taught at the Helsinki Music Institute.

Susanna Välimäki, in A celebration of historical Finnish women who wrote music (2019) said, “Moberg was influenced by theosophy, a philosophy according to which art is a portal to a transcendental spiritual realm… The symbolism of freedom is a key element in her output.” Much of her work is written for orchestra or choir or both. Moburg described many of her works as tone poems. Soluppgång [Sunrise] (1909) consists of four movements: Soluppgång [Sunrise], Preludi or Verksamhet [Activity], Afton [Evening] and Stillhet [Stillness]. Stillness, the movement on today’s program, is quiet and reflective, but expansive in its scope.

Franz Schubert
Arpeggione Sonata D821 (arr string orchestra Timo-Veikko Valve)
I. Allegro moderato
II. Adagio
III. Allegretto

The Viennese composer Franz Schubert (1797–1828) wrote the Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano D821 in November 1824, but it was not published until 1871. It was dedicated to Vincenz Schuster, a guitarist and reputedly history’s only professional arpeggione player.

Invented around 1823, the arpeggione is a six-stringed instrument with frets that is tuned like a guitar and bowed like a cello. Schubert’s sonata is now often performed on cello or viola, while there are arrangements for numerous other instruments. Today’s arrangement for cello and orchestra is by Timo-Veikko Valve.

The sonata is in three movements. The opening Allegro moderato provides contrasts of sadness and joy. It is a beautifully sensitive and lyrical movement. The Adagio is an exquisite love song. The final movement, Allegretto is a spirited rondo filled with energy and virtuosity. Unusually, the three movements are in different keys: A minor, E major and A major.

Olivia Bettina Davies
Crystalline (2017)

Olivia Bettina Davies is an Australian composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music that spans multiple genres including classical minimalism, experimental and ambient. Davies’ compositions often explore ideas of space, stasis and flow, resulting in texturally-driven and nuanced soundworlds.

Davies is the current Composer-in-Residence with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra—her tenure of three years commenced in 2022 and is supported by Prue Ashurst. She has been the recipient of a number of awards and scholarships including the Schenberg Music Fellowship in Composition and the prestigious 2022 Art Music Award: Large Ensemble for her piece Stratus (2021)—conducted and performed by Asher Fisch and WASO. Davies has also undertaken a year-long Prelude residency at the renowned Peggy Glanville-Hicks house in Sydney.

The composer writes: In writing Crystalline, I initially took inspiration from how crystals are formed and the varying fractal patterns they make. I wanted the music to unfold gradually, to feel organic, light and have a sense of energy, but also be contemplative. While there are repeating patterns within the music, I wrote mostly from a place of intuition, often interrupting or abandoning strict processes I had adopted as a starting point. It was a fun piece to write. I love the different textures and colours that string instruments can create and this subtle exploration in Crystalline is what makes each performance of the work unique.

 Crystalline was commissioned by the Hush Foundation for the album Collective Wisdom, an important project and one that I am very grateful to have been a part of. 

Jean Sibelius
String Quartet Voces intimae (arr string orchestra Pekka Helasvuo)
I. Andante – Allegro molto moderato
II. Vivace
III. Adagio di molto
IV. Allegretto (ma pesante)
V. Allegro

The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was one of the great European compositional voices of the early twentieth century. His output included seven symphonies, a violin concerto and several tone poems and incidental music.

He composed a number of works for string quartet as a student. The String Quartet Op 56 was composed in 1909 and first performed in April 1910 at the Helsinki Music Institute. The Quartet was composed between the Third and Fourth Symphonies. The review of the performance in the Helsingin Sanomat stated: “The composition attracted a great deal of attention, and it is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant products in its field. It is not a composition for the public at large, it is so eccentric and out of the ordinary.” The title “Voces intimae” comes from an inscription in the manuscript of the third movement.

The work is in five movements filled with dramatic contrasts. The work is structured as an arch with the opening and closing movements being accentuated and forceful markers. The second and fourth movement are fleeting scherzos built around a series of motives. The work is centred on the deep, introspective and lyrical third movement Adagio.

The string quartet was arranged for string orchestra by Pekka Helasvuo in 1993.

Peter Sculthorpe
String Quartet No 8
I. Con dolore
V. Con dolore

The Australian composer, Peter Sculthorpe (1929–2014) wrote String Quartet No. 8 (also referred to as String Quartet Music) in 1969. Commissioned by the Radcliffe Trust, it was first performed by the Allegri Quartet at Wigmore Hall, London, in January 1970 and dedicated to Lillian and Donald Peart.

John Peterson, writing for Resonate Magazine (August 2014), said: “Sculthorpe was particularly drawn to the string quartet form: he wrote eighteen works for that combination … and they invariably are representative of his most personal statements and aesthetic philosophies.”

The composer wrote: String Quartet no. 8 is in five movements, the first and last being almost entirely for solo cello. These two movements, together with the third movement, are written in a spatio-temporal notation in order to create a feeling of improvisation. They also form a contrast to the strict metres of the quicker sections in the second and fourth movements. The actual metrical patterns in these sections, extremely limited in the number of notes employed, are characteristically Indonesian. These two movements, in fact, seem to have a static, ritualistic quality that is very much in keeping with the ideals of Asian music.


Order of performance for the following: 

Jean Sibelius String Quartet Voces intimae (arr string orchestra Pekka Helasvuo)
Peter Sculthorpe String Quartet No 8
I. Andante – Allegro molto moderato (Sibelius)
I. Con dolore (Sculthorpe)
II. Vivace (Sibelius)
III. Adagio di molto (Sibelius)
V. Con dolore (Sculthorpe)
IV. Allegretto (ma pesante) (Sibelius)
V. Allegro (Sibelius)


Program Notes: David Forrest