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quartets

September 23, 2009

Back to writing. Carl told me that writing string quartets was exacting and he was right, no surprise. Carl usually is right.

The string quartet is finally taking shape, with a draft of the first movement finished. It seems to take a decent spell somewhere with uninterrupted lengths of time alone for me to be able to do this stuff. Part of the reason I remember growing up in the burbs with fondness, rather than the derision you hear so often, is that there were these uneventful stretches. Uneventful, that is, until you invented your own events! I remember summer holidays when I wrote short stories, painted paintings, threw the discus, played cricket in the street with brothers and neighbours, read through all the Beethoven sonatas… I digress.

The quartet is loosely based on a book of Australian woodcuts I found at the Ballarat Gallery in 2008. We’d gone out to Creswick for Mum’s 70th and returned via the cold old hole, looking in on this, one of Australia’s best colonial collections. The pictures vary greatly in quality, and many represent immigrant talent, in a couple of cases that of war interns, rather than local. I’m surprised that some of the pictures that seem the most evocative to me are not artistically very accomplished. The picture of a woman hanging out the clothes on an old-fashioned line is rough and ready but has a colour and movement that beckon. That’s the subject of the first movement, although I think I’ll call it ‘Sails in the Wind’, as a kind of generic representation of sheets of fabric flailing in a fresh breeze.

There’s a vignette of Corio, looking in from the bay, that is not much more than a silhouette of the low sky line, a few black horizontal lines as the sky. Again, it’s quite raw and minimal but a series of almost parallel chords immediately came to mind, with a saddish melody growing out of them. A tiny lino cut of a magnolia suggested a view of an interior, so the second movement is shaping to be a conception of a distant afternoon in Corio, along with snapshots of things and activities vaguely perceived.

Last is a beautiful, undulating picture of a Sydney tramline, indicating the era in which most of the pictures were created. I think a kind of constantly altered passacaglia will do here for the rolling gait of the tram, and we’ll see what calls and incidents will suggest themselves above the clattering wheels.

It’s due for first performance at the Coriole Festival South Australia on 1 May 2010, so the Goldners are anxious to look at it asap. Must get my act together and finish it for them.

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