Port Essington


by Peter Sculthorpe

string trio and string orchestra
String Orchestra

Commissioned by Musica Viva Australia for the Australian Chamber Orchestra

First Performance
18.8.1977, Opera House, Sydney: Australian Chamber Orchestra

Score 0-571-50579-1 on sale, parts for hire

Programme Notes
Port Essington was commissioned by Musica Viva Australia for the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Port Essington tells the story in musical terms of the attempted settlement of Port Essington, in the Northern Territory. Two attempts were made: the first in 1824, later abandoned, and a second in 1838, abandoned in 1849. The port was, incidentally, the terminal point for Leichhardt’s overland expedition from Brisbane in 1845. It appears that the main reason for the abandonment of Port Essington was, simply, that those living there were unable to adapt to the peculiar conditions of the land. The soldiers of the garrison, for instance, at all times wore uniforms more appropriate to an English winter than to an endless Capricornian summer. For me, because my life is centred upon the idea of a culture that is appropriate to Australia, the story has a special importance. The music, broadly speaking, exists on two planes: a string orchestra represents the bush; and a string trio, playing what appears to be nineteenth-century drawing room music, represents the settlement. During the opening sections of the work, the two planes co-exist in a not unharmonious manner, but, as the work progresses, the insistence of the music of the string orchestra brings about a withdrawal of the music played by the string trio. Following this withdrawal, the string trio makes a final statement, and the music is echoed by the string orchestra, suggesting that some kind of agreement could have been possible. The work is made up of six sections, played without break: 1. Prologue: The Bush 2. Theme and Variations: The Settlement 3. Phantasy: Unrest 4. Nocturnal: Estrangement 5. Arietta: Farewell 6. Epilogue: The Bush It should be mentioned that the theme heard in the Prologue is an adaptation of an aboriginal melody from Arnhem Land, collected by Professor AP Elkin. This melody serves as a theme for the complete work, which is a double set of variations, one in my own manner and one in a nineteenth-century European manner. Peter Sculthorpe

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