2015 Blog Articles

28 November 2015

A Toast

You may have noticed that the theme of our last series was celebration; now the corks have all popped and the bubbles are flat on Champagne Flute,  marking on the upside, three years of TPS performances and on the downside, the sad retirement of our manager Henry Lebovic, without whom we would probably still be talking about doing some concerts someday. We toast him for all his unsung hard work behind the scenes. Actually three toasts seems appropriate with three years, three venues, three performers... Hip, Hip, Hooray Henry!

Photo: Gary Levin


On that note we hope all those door prize champagne flute glasses are having a good work out!

There were very satisfying reactions to our latest concerts including – “most varied program ever” and “most interesting pieces”. We have already had some amazing feedback including a 20 line poem! What did you think? Your comments are welcomed in whatever form you feel inspired to contribute, rhyming or not.

We were particularly pleased with the response to our latest Australian composer discovery, Melbourne based  Katherine Rawlings. Her trio The New Prometheus was complimented by audience members for “making me think” and “stimulating the imagination”, and the violin solo Blue Carnation was compared for beauty with Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending. We certainly look forward to any new works from her. You can see her website at www.katherinerawlings.com

While we have not been in the position of being able to commission new works yet, we have been fortunate to find interested composers as well as interesting new works already written for our combination; we all believe that audiences too appreciate home-grown works. For an illuminating discussion on the importance and role of new music in Australia you might like to read a transcript of music education champion Richard Gill's Peggy Glanville-Hicks Address:


Another  thought-provoking read came to my attention recently; by  Anna Goldsworthy, well-known pianist and author,  it focuses on the future of  concert-giving and audiences. Ranging from Bach to busking, Christmas carols to Gough Whitlam, it asks if we continue to neglect  music education today, how will the audiences of tomorrow develop? I loved her descriptions of why chamber music is so special and especially liked her idea of giving selected members the audience the opportunity to sit on stage amongst the performers to really experience the music – maybe something we can consider in future.


Although we are now “self-managed” we do to intend to keep our series of three venues going in 2016, but we are not quite ready to announce dates yet. Bear with us as we compare diaries, juggle dates and try to avoid clashes with other groups! Other exciting plans for the New Year include our first CD! We will be doing some recording sessions soon in the wonderful Priory at Bingie, an inspiring exhibition space and small performance venue.. There is wonderful  retrospective art exhibition titled “Encore” running there throughout November, December and January.  More information on their website: http://www.bingie.com

We look forward to another inspiring year of discovering and sharing great music with you all. As always, watch this space for news and updates.


The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance

Seasons Greetings from  Rachel, Valmai and Deborah


3 October 2015

Fiddlesticks! Fiddle facts and fallacies

In this series we will also feature the violin as well as the flute.

Fit as a fiddle...

It is a common misconception that this saying has to do with health and fitness, but it is an old phrase first used in the late 16th century, meaning “as suitable or right as can be”. The same meaning survives in  “survival of the fittest” and “fit for a king”. All that still doesn't explain why a violin was thought to be appropriate!

Catgut is made from cats.

Another one that everyone gets wrong!

Fiddle, n. an instrument  to tickle human ears by friction of  a horse's  tail on the entrails of a cat.

(Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary)

Fortunately for cats and catlovers, violin strings are traditionally made of sheep intestines or from  goats, cows or pigs. The name may be a corruption of  “cattle-gut” or  “kit”, an old name for a dancing-master's small violin. While many strings these days are made from synthetic materials or metals, some players, especially  on period instruments, still prefer the feel and sound of true guts!

Shakespeare got it right:

Is it not strange that sheeps' guts should hale souls out of men's bodies?

(Much Ado About Nothing)

Bowhair is still made from horses' tails – no synthetic imitations are as good. Between 150-200 hairs are needed for a violin bow.

Nero fiddled as Rome burned?

Perhaps it was because Nero  played the fiddle, they burned Rome.

(Oliver Herford)

A piece of propaganda that has survived the centuries! Rome certainly did burn in the Great Fire of AD 64 and Nero was suspected of ordering it to be started, but he could not have fiddled, as the violin would not be invented for another 1500 years. He was, however known as a keen player of the cithara, a sort of lyre.

To play Second Fiddle

While the second violinist plays a different part, is not necessarily easier than playing first, just less glamorous!

Which reminds me of the famous quote by Dr Samuel Johnson about a certain violinist's playing,

Difficult do you call it, sir? I wish it were impossible.

There is a well known, joking description of a string quartet which manages to insult just about everyone :

One good violinist, one bad violinist, one failed violinist and someone who hates all violinists.


Some Violin Statistics

The oldest suviving violin was made by Andrea Amati in 1564

The most expensive violin the “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri sold in 2014 for US$16 million – this record is sure to be surpassed soon.

The largest violin, was constructed by 15 violinmakers in Markneukirchen, Germany and measures 4.27m tall and needs 3 players.

The smallest violin, you can play this yourself when you are sick of someone whinging and complaining.  It's done by rubbing your index finger and thumb together and saying, "This is the world's smallest violin, and it's playing just for you."

There are over 70 pieces in a violin.

Playing the violin burns around 175 calories an hour.

Much more if you do it like this!



27 September 2015

The Magic of the Flute

As we welcome our first guest flautist, James Fortune, it must be time for some fabulous Flute Facts and Factoids.

Flute, n. A variously perforated hollow stick intended for the punishment of sin, the minister of retribution being commonly a young man with straw-coloured eyes and lean hair.

Ambrose Bierce The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary

A flute player can be called a flautist, from the Italian, flauto, or if American, a flutist or if Irish and named Phil, a fluter.

The flute is one of the oldest musical instruments with earliest examples dating back 35,000 years. Over the years it has been made of many different materials, from bone, wood, or ivory to silver, gold, or platinum. James Galway was celebrated as “the man with the golden flute” which is reputed to give a warmer tone, although he has stated that contrary to some the addition of diamonds does nothing for the sound although “it does make the flute look a little more special”!

In the Baroque periods the flute was usually made of wood with only 1 metal key, but through the Classical more were added until Boehm in the 19th century developed a new system with a metal body and many mechanical parts, allowing the player to play easily in all keys.  With a few modifications this was basically the modern concert flute. It  comes in many sizes, piccolo, alto, tenor, bass and even contrabass, but remains one of the most easily portable instruments.

I really should have studied flute,
Harmonica, or chimes.
A clarinet is nice and light;
A fiddle would be fine.
But I had to take piano,

And my teacher is a brute.
He lives up seven flights of stairs.
(I wish I played the flute.)

Shel Silverstein, in Falling Up

Famous and infamous flautists include:

Frederick the Great of Prussia, George III of Great Britain and Ireland, Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, Nicholas II of Russia.

Hector Berlioz, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Ludwig van Beethoven's father, Stephen Foster, Henry Mancini

Leonardo da Vinci, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Thoreau, Enrico Caruso, Andrea Bocelli, Tony Curtis, Peter Gabriel, Sarah Palin!

Mozart is said to have detested the flute, writing to his father “You know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear.", yet he composed some of his most well-loved works for it.

The philosophical flute:

The flute is not an instrument that has a good moral effect – it is too exciting.


When someone gives music an opportunity to charm his soul with the flute and pour those sweet, soft, and plaintive tunes we mentioned through his ear…if he keeps at it unrelentingly and is beguiled by the music, after a time his spirit is melted and dissolved until it vanishes, and the very sinews of his soul are cut out.


 The sound of the flute will cure epilepsy and a sciatic gout.


Australian magpies, Cracticus tibicen, are named for their songs, some of the most complex in birdland, with  tibicen meaning “flute player”. They can imitate other birds and humans with a four-octave range.

Finally,  a  few flute funnies:

What is worse than a flute? Two flutes .

Anonymous (just as well...)

How many classical flutists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Only one, but she'll pay $10,000 for a gold-plated ladder.

Hoffnung did some fantastic flute cartoons, all of course copyright so view one here:




12 September 2015

All Sorted

Researching repertoire for the trio started me thinking about the different catalogues and numbering  used for some composers' works. Why are opus numbers enough for some while others have many conflicting systems?

Opus means literally “work” and the Latin plural is opera, which confusingly has become a singular term in Italian. Groves dictionary suggests that the English plural “opuses” may thus be preferable. I never realised  until now that Opus numbers usually apply properly only to published works and were mostly assigned by publishers not composers. For example Beethoven's String Quartet No.14 in C#minor was published as his Op.131. To complicate matters, until 1800 opus numbers were mostly used only for instrumental works, especially sets of pieces grouped together. Problems also arose as some works were never printed formally, or were printed more than once, by more than one publisher and the chronology of composition did not necessarily correspond with the date of publication. The work might be given a different number by the composer and publisher, be revised by the composer and republished, or an early work might be suppressed by the composer or  lost and never  published at all. Manuscripts from hundreds of years ago are still turning up in dusty corners of libraries.

Brave musicologists have made it their life's work to sort out this mess. How many of these cataloguers can you match with their composers?

1. Ludwig von Köchel

2. Ralph Kirkpatrick 

3. Anthony van Hoboken 

4. Otto Erich Deutsch 

5. Alfred Wotquenne

6. Peter Ryom

Köchel rules, OK!



1.Mozart, 2.Scarlatti, 3.Haydn, 4.Schubert, 5.CPE Bach, 6.Vivaldi

Haydn's works are a particular minefield and many have battled to establish the chronology of the hundreds of works by this prolific composer. The Hoboken catalogue of his output owes its usefulness to the fact that it does not attempt  a chronology and instead groups works by type and genre. For instance all symphonies are found in Hob.I. using the numbers which were assigned to them in 1908 by a scholar who rejoiced in the fabulous name of Eusebius Mandyczewski. These were so well known that it was too confusing to change them according to more correct chronology, so that the Clock  Symphony No 101 became Hob. I/101. The string quartets are still commonly referred to by their opus numbers but are also grouped under Hob. III. Our string trios (Hob.V ) are another confusing case as they were originally piano sonatas, (Hob.XVI). Trying to track down the original piano sonata to compare with our transcription was a real headache!

Mozart's K. numbers and Schubert's D.s are more simply arranged by date, so we know that K.16, his 1st Symphony is one of his earliest compositions and K 626, the Requiem is one of his last.

Not all cataloguers have become household names, with many more modestly and logically named systems. The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, (the Bach Works Catalogue or BWV, which I have always rather fancied as a numberplate) was compiled by Wolfgang Schmieder – whoever heard of him? Like Hoboken's catalogue it is based on groupings of types of works, eg the Cantatas are BWV 1-224. Bach never used opus numbers, often revised and arranged his compositions and few of his works were published in his lifetime. Think of the now famous Brandenburg Concertos, (BWV 1046-1051), which were presented to the Margrave in 1721 then languished in his library until his death in 1734 and were then sold on and only rediscovered in 1849, to be finally given publication in 1850. There are also similar catalogues for Telemann, TWV,  Handel, HWV  and  Mendelssohn, you guessed it, MWV.

My personal favourites are WoO numbers!  Werk ohne Opuszahl works without Opus numbers. For example Beethoven's  WoO 59 is the piano piece Bagatelle in Aminor, popularly known as Für Elise.  Brahms and Schumann also have Wo0 lists.

Woohoo! Next time you read all those numbers in a program thank a musicologist!



21 July 2015

Give yourselves a hand!

The first half of the year has been a busy one for Three Piece Suite and although our concert series isn't until October, we will be busy planning that program as well as some recording projects in the coming months. We couldn't and wouldn't put on our concerts without a very special group of people – our audiences, so thank you all to those who attended our Musical Chairs or Masterstrokes performances in either Blackheath, Moruya or Annandale!


I heard a program on Radio National recently with David Malouf talking about his third volume of collected essays, Being There: Words, music, art and performance. The stuff of a satisfying life. To really get inside the music, he discussed how essential it is to attend live performances as opposed to engineered and manicured recordings. That got me thinking about the relationship between performers, audience and composers...here are a few quotes from composers on needing audiences:


Great art presupposes the alert mind of the educated listener.

Arnold Schoenberg


A musical experience needs three human beings at least. It requires a composer, a performer and a listener, and unless these three take part there is no musical experience...music demands more from the listener then simply the possession of a tape machine or a transistor radio. It demands some preparation, some effort, a journey to a special place, saving up for a ticket, some homework on the programme perhaps , some clarification of the ears and sharpening of the instincts. It demands as much effort on the listener's part as the other two corners of the triangle, this holy triangle of composer, performer and listener.

Benjamin Britten

Music is meaningless noise unless it touches a receiving mind.

Paul Hindemith


It was said of Fritz Kreisler that once out walking with a friend, they passed a fishmongers with a fine display of codfish, mouths wide open and glassy eyes staring, whereupon he stopped and exclaimed “Heavens, that reminds me – I should have been playing at a concert!”


So what makes a good audience? Opinions vary as to whether they should be silent or involved:


Wagner tested out the acoustics of his new theatre at Bayreuth by bringing in soldiers to squat on the floor and described them as the ideal audience because:

  1. They were all in their places before the music began
  2. They did not talk or fidget while it was being played
  3. when it was over they made no pretence of having understood anything


Glenn Gould thought audiences ruined a performance and wrote an essay called Let's Ban Applause


The indifference of the public is what's depressing. Enthusiasm or vehement protest shows that your work really lives

Darius Milhaud


I know two kinds of audience only, one coughing and one not coughing.

Artur Schnabel, who also refused to play encores, saying Applause is a receipt not a bill!


While we're talking about applause, the vexed question of classical music is just when to applaud! Some snobs pride themselves on knowing when the piece is over and glaring at anyone who might mistake it. Stokowski also tried  (unsuccessfully) to have applause banned.  Historically, it seems that not clapping between the sections of a longer piece is a fairly modern idea; possibly the advent of live broadcasts and recordings was a factor. Mozart boasted in a letter that his Symphony 33 received wild acclaim after each movement and Brahms complained about the lack of  applause between movements at the premiere of  his 1st Piano Concerto. We certainly don't mind if you enjoyed the music and show it! Just don't throw oranges as was once common in 18th century opera houses..

Should I Applaud?