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Four Stabiles was composed when I was newly graduated from university, after I had decided that I liked the idea of becoming a composer. Margaret Nielsen graciously gave it an early airing and the score was promptly published by Waiteata Press Music, giving me a tremendous boost of self-confidence.
The 60s were a time when musical abstraction was the vogue, when a mathematical structure justified the music. Thus the inverted palindromic form of Stabile I based on its two versions of the all-interval symmetrically invertible 12-tone chord was a source of considerable composerly satisfaction! All but one of the dedicatees, personal friends, have long since either drifted or passed away. The one remaining contact, William Dart, is characterised in Stabile III, a tender portrait of someone who was then living a curiously isolated existence. Tony (Stabile 1) I admired for his good looks and spiritual curiosity, while winsome Robert (Stabile 2) was the object of one of my compulsive crushes. Gaye (Stabile 4) was a passionately energetic fellow student at Teacher's College, who, sadly, took her own life a few years later.
These pieces use fixed register, that is, each note (C, C#, etc) is heard at only one register, creating a static vertical relationship between the pitches. Variety is achieved by viewing the 'sound object' from different perspectives, just as a viewer explores a static sculptural structure (a stabile) by walking around it. Movements one and three permit two possible registers for each note by using two chords, one the inversion of the other. Another feature of the first movement is that it is palindromic. The gentle sounds of the Stabile 2 suggest a star-lit night, Stabile 4 strives for rhythmic momentum to counter the essentially static compositional technique, while an informed listener will easily recognise the debt that Stabile 3 owes to the first of Douglas Lilburn's Nine Short Pieces.
Performed by Margaret Nielsen
Performed by Gao Ping