Sonata for Viola and Percussion


Viola and percussion
Percussion, Viola
perc(1): tam-t/susp.cym/ch.cym/tgl/BD/SD/tom-t/bongos
First Performance
13.8.1960, Attingham Park Summer School, Shropshire: Rosemary Green/Peter Sculthorpe

Playing score 0-571-50554-6 on sale

Programme Notes

Sonata for Viola and Percussion [1960] By the time he had completed this Sonata for Viola and Percussion, Peter Sculthorpe had been in England for 30 months, studying at Oxford. Having failed to interest a young Australian cellist in the solo sonata that prefigured this work, Sculthorpe set about adapting it for two players who would be colleagues at the Attingham Park Summer School in Shropshire. This was organized by his good friend, the musicologist and writer Wilfrid Mellers, still as active as ever today, at the age of 90. It was Mellers who suggested the combination, perhaps unique in music then and to this day! Sadly, the origins of this most unusual combination are prosaic. For his summer school for young composers, Mellers had hired several first-rank professional players, including a violist and a percussionist. Whereas the violist would be predictably busy, the percussionist would most likely have less to do: could Sculthorpe come up with something to make them equally occupied? At the first performance in July 1960, the violist was Rosemary Green but mid-summer fog delayed the arrival of the professional percussionist from London, so the composer himself played the percussion part, “for the first and last time!” Sculthorpe subsequently dedicated the work to the memory of his good friend Peter Komlos, a violist in the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. In 1960 the Sonata was awarded the Royal Concert Trust Fund Composition Prize. The additional few hundred pounds was greatly appreciated by this struggling musician from Australia, then working as a barman whilst building a career as a modestly successful student composer. And this thirty-year-old was homesick too. In preparation for the work’s Sydney performance in 1962, Sculthorpe confessed to having written the Sonata “with feelings of longing for Australia and also with feelings of apprehension towards Asia”. That was enough for his detractors to label the work ‘The Asian Threat Concerto’, reflecting the paranoia of middle-class Australia in the mid-1960s, trembling at the prospect of South-East Asian countries falling like dominoes before hordes of advancing Chinese. Protesting that he himself has “never had such feelings of apprehension”, Sculthorpe maintained that he recognized no actual Asian influence in this work – that would come in 1968, with Tabuh Tabuhan and Sun Music III – although he conceded the martial motto-figures might appear “somewhat threatening”. Like much of his music, this twelve-minute Sonata is a double-set of variations, somewhat free, its structure foreshadowing that of many later works. A Mahlerian melody is counterposed against a more forceful rhythmic figure. These two ideas alternate with each other, showing no tendency to coalesce. Peaceful co-existence was perhaps the best that could be hoped for at the height of the Cold War. Kelly Trench 25th July 2004

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News & Reviews

'Sonata for Viola and Percussion' reviews

‘A rigorously static work. The sonata, the dry gongs and desert glare of its percussion encircling the lonely human agony of the viola, exists in a climate in which emotion is all the fiercer for being half-stifled and haltingly articulate.’ The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (Roger Covell), 15 August 1964 Read more

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