Sustaining across decades - Carl Vine at 70

Sustaining across decades - Carl Vine at 70
© Belinda Webster - 1994

Join Wise Music Group in celebrating Carl Vine’s 70th birthday this year as we dive into his diverse catalogue. Since his beginnings in dance music Vine has built an eclectic catalogue which now includes seven symphonies, eight concertos, music for film, television and theatre, electronic music and numerous chamber works.

Born in Perth, he studied piano with Stephen Dornan and composition with John Exton at the University of Western Australia. Moving to Sydney in 1975, he worked as a freelance pianist and composer with a wide range of ensembles, theatre and dance companies over the following decades.


Piano Sonata (1990)

A complex and challenging two-movement sonata, Vine's Piano Sonata was composed for the Sydney Dance Company. The piece was dedicated to and first performed by Michael Kieran-Harvey in June 1991. The music is full of rich chordal movements, unusual flowing harmonies and tonalities, with great extremes of dynamic and energy. Reflecting the physical origins of the piece as a dance, the music is dotted with very strict changes of tempo which require exact adherence, rather than the rubato approach that typifies many piano interpretations.

Vine’s Piano Sonata is frequently performed in the world’s leading piano competitions, including the Sydney International Piano Competition and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

In 2002 the work received the Classical Music Award of Instrumental Work of the Year presented by the Australian Music Centre and APRA.

Over the years, hundreds of online recordings, including 15 commercial albums, have been released.

To purchase the score, choose your preferred retailer on this web page: Piano Sonata (1990)


MicroSymphony (1986) (Symphony No. 1)

MicroSymphony. "Micro" only in length – a single movement of just 12 minutes – the work uses the full symphonic forces in its exploration of rhythmic and harmonic transformation. The principal theme to MicroSymphony is a four-note duet that is first heard in the third bar of the work. This motif outlines two chords a tritone (or augmented fourth) apart that contain both major and minor thirds. The entire work, then, follows as a series of explorations of the symmetry and ambivalence of this one motif.

The work deals principally with transformation. Chords become major, minor or both, and then mutate completely. Rhythms become more or less complex against the prevailing pulse and then propel into new pulses and new rhythms.

MicroSymphony is the first of Vine’s six symphonies.


Symphony No. 3 (1990)

Although Symphony No. 3 is not a programmatic work as such, the music traces a journey that may be interpreted in many ways. The opening is veiled and brooding, and somewhat enigmatic. The texture gradually lightens until it reaches a section of childlike innocence. This passage is interrupted at its climax by a rhythmically-based movement introduced by a solo for Maracas. The climax of this section cuts away, once again, to an extended slow movement characterised by a series of solos spread throughout the orchestra.

At the end of a long, melismatic Clarinet Solo, rapid running gestures move inevitably towards the Presto Finale. At the height of the Finale, the rhythmic momentum grinds to a halt and a slow-moving Coda closes the work with a final burst of power.

Symphony No. 3 was the John Bishop Commission for 1990, administered by the Elder Conservatorium at the University of Adelaide. It was commissioned with financial assistance from the Performing Arts Unit of the Australia Council, and first performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Stuart Challender at the Adelaide Festival Theatre on March 5th, 1990.


Symphony No. 4.2 (1993)

Vine’s fourth symphony follows a line of progression through the preceding three. The bluntness and concision of the first (MicroSymphony) precedes the larger phrases and more surprising turns of the second. The third was conceived as a single large phrase that moves slowly from "darkness" to "light" (or uncertainty to affirmation), a process that is continued in the fourth.

Like its predecessors, the fourth is cast in a single movement comprising a number of discrete sections. The sombre opening is interrupted before evolving into an evasive passage of rhythmic interplay. The climax of this section collapses suddenly to reveal two romantic melodies that again build suddenly and fall away without warning. The Presto that follows would normally be the second movement - a rapid moto perpetuo built on one note. The presto dies away to a transparent motive on solo piano. This once again evolves then decays, leading to a quiet and reflective finale.

In the 1998 revision to the work (Symphony No. "4.2"), the proportions between these sections has been altered dramatically, and a new presto section precedes the final chorale.


© Keith Saunders

© Keith Saunders


Percussion Concerto (1987)

Percussion Concerto was commissioned by and is dedicated to Graeme Leak who gave its first performance at the University of Western Australia in September, 1987. It was devised in two versions: one for soloist with tape accompaniment and the other accompanied by chamber orchestra. Although the tape version "mimics" the orchestral accompaniment, no attempt was made to imitate orchestral tone colours, and it stands as a work in its own right.

The solo part is designed to highlight the virtuosic dexterity required for multiple percussion writing as well as to demonstrate most of the sonorities available to the solo percussionist. Since it was devised with tape accompaniment in mind, all of the rhythmic cues must come from the accompaniment. The challenge here was to make it seem as though the soloist is leading the tape even though there is no way in the world this would be possible.


Cafe Concertino (1984)

Cafe Concertino is an attractive glance back to the popular Parisian-inspired pieces of Milhaud.
Built on a cycle of fifths and its resultant tritones, Café Concertino’s structure puts an emphasis on tonal ambiguity through chord inversion and octave doubling. Despite its academic structure however - Café Concertino gleans much of its gestural material from chamber music of the last century, not always with due reverence.
Commissioned by the Australia Ensemble with assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council, it was first performed by the Australia Ensemble at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on the 16th November, 1984.


String Quartet No. 2 (1984)

This work is principally concerned with the rhythmic relationship between individual players and manipulation of the subsequent sense of "pulse" within the ensemble as a whole. The piece is in three clear sections. The introduction to the first centres on a constant beat which is subdivided in different ways by each player creating complex counter-rhythms from comparatively simple rhythmic lines. The players come into rhythmic unison on a pulse which is then subjected to a series of metric modulations, where a non-principal pulse in one bar becomes the principal pulse in the next and so on.

The second section centres on a rhythmic ostinato on cello which is then overlayed with other repetitive rhythmic figures similar to the rhythmic organisation of certain African musics. The harmonic approach to the piece is fairly simple if not traditional, either following a simple chordal progression which is obscured through unexpected voicing and/or the introduction of "extraneous" accidentals, or, as in the second section, based on a simple "mode" with similar obscuring techniques.

The final section confirms this harmonic simplicity with the introduction of repeated dominant-tonic chords which, through various recapitulations of what has gone before, leave no doubt that the work was actually in C major.


Defying Gravity (1987)
for 4 percussionists

Long before Stephen Schwartz scored his prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Carl Vine wrote Defying Gravity for percussion ensemble. It was commissioned by Synergy Percussion ensemble.

Carl Vine writes: “I have always marvelled at the co-ordination and finesse required for even a simple drum roll, while a skillful performance on multiple percussion instruments defies the laws of both probability and physics."