South Australian pianist Gabriella Smart is internationally renowned for her innovative programming, brilliant interpretive technique and relentless advocacy for new music, particularly that involving the piano. Her recent PhD (University of Adelaide, 2018) focussed on the rich but neglected history of the colonial piano in Australia. As part of this project, Smart commissioned twelve composers to write works that took inspiration from this legacy, two of which are presented here on Works for Travelled Pianos.

Album artwork

Finnish-born Australian composer Erkki Veltheim (b. 1976) took inspiration from the first piano in Alice Springs, which arrived by camel when the town was established in 1872 as a telegraph repeater station approximately half way between Port Augusta and Port Darwin. Two New Proposals for an Overland Telegraph Line from Port Darwin to Port Augusta, from the Perspective of Alice Springs is scored for piano and electronics and employs an intricate, conceptually elegant framework to spell out in constantly repeated Morse code the most retweeted tweet of 2014. As Veltheim observes, “The Overland Telegraph Line revolutionised communications between Australia and the rest of the world, facilitating the delivery of urgent and important messages. The rise of social media messaging represents a new kind of communication revolution, which has repurposed each one of us as a repeater station of trivial bits of information.”

Veltheim’s dizzying, mesmerising repetition is a striking contrast to Kaps Freed from Australian composer Cat Hope (b. 1966), which takes its name from Percy Grainger’s childhood piano, a German Kaps model. Hope describes this work as a contemplation of Grainger’s conception of Free Music, which was inspired by watching the movement of waves on a lake when he was a boy. Grainger would later spend years experimenting and constructing various sound-emitting machines designed to liberate music from the constraints of rhythm, pitch, bar lines and tempo, leaving it “free to roam thru [sic] a tonal space.”

Hope’s sparse, minimal work is a study in close listening and subtle shifts, releasing the piano from the limits of its form and construction. As Hope explains, “The aim of the piece is to transform the sound of the piano as closely as possible to Grainger’s idea, by sampling moments in the piano and transporting them into Theremin-like tones carefully notated on the score.” Works for Travelled Pianos rethinks sonic possibilities for the piano through a uniquely Australian historical lens with fascinating results. Smart’s performance of these two works is characteristically nuanced and deeply thoughtful; the recording rich and resonant.

Composers: Cat Hope, Erkki Veltheim
Title: Works for Travelled Pianos
Performer: Gabriella Smart p
Label: Hat Hut ezz-thetics 1012

Read our new magazine online