3 September 2020
Originally written as the final movement of Richard Meale's Second String Quartet, Cantilena Pacifica is deeply serene, with three of the quartet’s members playing a murmuring accompaniment over which the solo violin gently floats.
Meale, along with Peter Sculthorpe and Nigel Butterley, was one of the great trailblazers of new music in Australia in the 1960s.
As a student he had kept himself abreast of the latest developments in European and American music by sampling the wares at the record store where he worked, and in 1960 his uncompromising Flute Sonata instantly won him the unofficial position of leader of the Australian avant-garde. He was equally important as a conductor and pianist, giving numerous Australian premieres of important new works from overseas.
In the late 1970s, however, Meale made a dramatic change in his style, returning to tonal music. The Second String Quartet was the first major work of this neo-Romantic period, which lasted the rest of his life.
“Although I had been an ardent supporter and promoter of new music in the ‘60s and ‘70s – the style of music that became known as ‘avantgarde’ – I began to experience some misgivings about it in the second half of the ‘70s…,” writes Meale.
“I was developing certain doubts about the rationality of its central theoretical basis, particularly in the concepts that lay behind serial music. Most of all, however, I felt at loggerheads with its limited expressive powers.
The problem that I was encountering was brought to a head in 1979 when I began my Second String Quartet. Sadly, my best friend, Stephen Wilson, died after a sudden onset of cancer. It now became a matter of personal necessity to write a piece that would be a memoriam to him. So it became clear that the work could not be based on any artifice. Its existence had to lie in its emotional truth.”
Filmed with the support of our partners at City Recital Hall