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Seraphim Trio with Christopher Moore

Program Notes

A Note from Utzon Music 2022 curator

Casey Green

Welcome to the Utzon Room and to this special performance with the dynamic, award-winning Seraphim Trio, who are joined in this piano quartet program by the inimitable Principal Viola of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Christopher Moore.

This afternoon’s recital showcases the superb talent, creativity and ambition of these Australian musicians, who have co-commissioned a new work by Brett Dean, which will be a highlight of this program and I expect in many piano quartet programs performed for years to come. 

We’ll also hear the music of Countess Maria Pejačević, the daughter of a Croatian noble family who rejected her aristocratic destiny to lead an incredible life as a composer, thinker and social advocate. We finish with Mozart’s splendid Piano Quartet in G minor, which is a cornerstone of the repertoire.

May your soul be warmed by the music, this space, and the company. I hope you enjoy this afternoon’s event and we look forward to welcoming you back to the Utzon Room soon. 

Program Notes

Countess Maria Theodora Paulina Pejačević
Piano Quartet in D minor Op. 25
Minuetto. Allegretto – Trio
Rondo. Allegro

Countess Dora Pejačević was born into Croatian nobility and enjoyed an open and artistic upbringing. Despite her privilege, Pejačević developed a keen sense of social justice during her life. She volunteered as a nurse during World War I and used her experiences during this time to create some of her best work.

Pejačević took initial piano lessons from her mother (the notable pianist, Hungarian Baroness Elisabeth Josepha Vay de Vaya) and later had a private education in Munich, Zagreb and Dresden. She studied violin, composition and instrumentation, developing a strength of expression that would see her become Croatia’s most important composer.

Pejačević’s 58 opuses comprise 106 works, mostly written in the late Romantic style. They include songs, works for solo piano, the first modern Croatian symphony and the first piano concerto by any Croatian composer.

Her Piano Quartet of 1908 is an early work but stands out in its charm and late Romantic beauty. The first movement opens with a descending flourish in the piano before the violin leads the string trio with a broad, lyrical melody. The Adagio draws the listener in with its intimate simplicity while the Minuetto’s rustic, exuberant dance book-ends a luxurious trio section. A vibrant and playful Rondo brings the quartet to its conclusion.


Brett Dean
Imaginary Ballet, for piano and viola

Note from the Composer:

Even though I was keen for this new work for piano and strings not to be defined by the Coronavirus and its endless accompanying news cycles, like the proverbial elephant in the room it was somehow there anyway while I was composing, winking at me rather rudely, flaunting its new, continuous cough, high temperature and loss of taste and smell.

During this past year or more of dramatic and unprecedented change, I found myself turning increasingly to music of energy, directness and verve in an effort to counteract consciously the at times almost overwhelming sense of global tragedy. 

These lockdown listening habits, often including guilty pleasures of old pop, rock and dance music favourites, somehow crept stealthily into this new piece. Thus, what started out as an abstract chamber music piece for the classic piano quartet combination became an “Imaginary Ballet”; a suite of fast, rhythmic, dance-like movements. Bearing titles such as “Obsessions”, “Stretto Dance” and “Skittish”, these dances inhabit a buoyant, bullish and effervescent space, full of both driving, reassuring repetitions and abrupt changes of tack, of surging waves of quasi-orchestral energy and slivers of sneaky secrecy.

“Caprice” opens the work with a provocatively bouncy, recurring major ninth motive in the piano, a gesture of openness and possibility in this time of shut-down, enticing the strings to join in one after the other. This motive reappears in different guises throughout the work’s nine brief, interconnected movements, informing note choices, melodic shapes and harmonic directions. 

During the composition process, a series of slower interludes between the dances also began to emerge, bringing with them quietude and endowing the work with oases of silhouettes and shadows.

One of them is a chorale that doffs its cap to Charles Ives. It was inspired by the mysteriously foggy winter twilights of Donnington, the beautiful village in West Berkshire that I escaped to between lockdowns and where this piece was composed. Another is a short elegy in memory of my dear friend and former viola teacher, the remarkable Australian musician, John Curro.

“Imaginary Ballet” is about 20 minutes long. May it intrigue you. Dancing is permitted as far as I’m concerned, socially distanced of course...

- Brett Dean (April, 2021)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Quartet in G minor                                                        
Rondo: Allegro

Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor is a seminal work, marking the birth of a new genre. The publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister commissioned it as the first of a set of three in 1785, but subsequently cancelled the commission, with the admonition to Mozart to ‘write more popularly, or else I can neither print now pay for anything of yours.’ Such a response might seem peculiar to the modern ear – particularly for a work such as this, which is one of the glories of the repertoire – but it speaks to the perception of Mozart’s music as difficult at the time, as well as the nature of chamber music, which was largely conceived with the amateur audience in mind. In a 1788 review in the Journal des Luxus und der Moden, a critic observed that the quartet

‘[as performed by amateurs] could not please: everybody yawned with boredom over the incomprehensible tintamarre of 4 instruments which did not keep together for four bars on end, and whose senseless concentus never allowed any unity of feeling; but it had to please, it had to be praised! ... what a difference when this much-advertised work of art is performed with the highest degree of accuracy by four skilled musicians who have studied it carefully.’

Aside from any difficulties in its execution, the work also contains the hallmarks of Mozart’s mature voice: his increasing chromaticism, use of counterpoint, and interest in minor modes. The work’s tonality of G minor would have been considered less than ideal for the amateur market: less than a decade later, Haydn dissuaded Beethoven from publishing his Op. 1 piano trios, allegedly on account of the C minor tonality of Op. 1 No. 3. And G minor here, in Mozart’s hands, is a very serious matter indeed. Alfred Einstein described it as ‘the key of fate,’ and explains that ‘the wild command that opens the first movement, unisono, and stamps the whole movement with its character, remaining threateningly in the background, and bringing the movement to its inexorable close, might be called the ‘fate' motive with exactly as much justice as the four-note motive of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony." Such gravitas is dispelled in an idyllic, highly embellished second movement, followed by a third movement in the key of G major, which unfolds as a visitation of joy.

About the artists

Seraphim Trio

Seraphim Trio

Helen Ayres (violin), Tim Nankervis (cello) and Anna Goldsworthy (piano)

Seraphim Trio is as much a lifelong friendship as a chamber ensemble. Formed in Adelaide in 1995, the group has enjoyed an unusually longstanding collaboration, with its current membership – Helen Ayres, Tim Nankervis and Anna Goldsworthy – dating from 1998.

Seraphim is acclaimed for its encyclopedic projects such as its marathon performances of the complete Beethoven Trios, and the recording project The Trio Through Time, tracking the evolution of the genre in recordings of twelve piano trios from Mozart to Sculthorpe. The trio is also celebrated for its inventive collaborations with artists as diverse as violinist Andrew Haveron and street artist Peter Drew. In 2019, Seraphim’s recording with Paul Kelly, James Ledger, and Alice Keath, Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds, won the ARIA award for Best Classical Album.

Seraphim enjoyed formative study with Hatto Beyerle in Hanover, and remains dedicated to the rhetorical traditions of chamber music. It is also committed to nourishing the ecosystem of Australian music, through its flagship concert series and recordings, regional touring, educational workshops, and new format performances including audience immersions. The trio has commissioned a library of Australian chamber music, with recent commissions by Brett Dean, Jakub Jankowski, and Richard Mills, and welcomes enquiries from musicians who wish to explore this repertoire.

Seraphim can be found returning to the stage in 2022, at their regular musical homes of Elder Hall in Adelaide, Epsom House in Tasmania, and the Melbourne Recital Centre, with other venues to follow.

Seraphim Trio

Christopher Moore

Principal Viola of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Christopher Moore spent nine years travelling the globe as Principal Viola of Australian Chamber Orchestra. As romantic as that sounds, he missed his old chums Mahler, Schoenberg and Adès, and so returned to these and other old friends at the MSO.

Not surprisingly, Christopher’s wife and two daughters are pleased that Papa has hung up his rock star garb and come home to roost like their pet chickens. If you’re lucky, he may hand you a bona fide free-range egg; if you’re unlucky, you’ll be stuck hearing about how much he loves brewing beer and riding his bike into town from the suburbs, in an attempt to prevent his waistline expanding to the size of his chickens’ coop.

Christopher Moore plays a viola attributed to Giovanni Paolo Maggini dating from circa 1600-10 AD, loaned anonymously to the MSO.