Paul Stanhope: String Quartet No.3, From the Kimberley

String Quartet No.3, From the Kimberley

I. Tracks and Traces
II. Dirrari Lament
III. River-Run


Commissioned for Musica Viva Australia by Huntington Estate and Friends to mark 25 years of the Huntington Estate Music Festival. Composed especially for the Goldner String Quartet in celebration of their 20th anniversary in 2015.

Melody for Dirrari Lament composed by Molly Jalakbiya. Used with permission of the custodians of this song, June Oscar and Patsy Bedford (Bunuba Community, Western Australia).

Performed by the Australian String Quartet
Dale Barltrop – Violin I
Francesca Hiew – Violin II
Stephen King – Viola
Sharon Grigoryan – Cello 

Composed by Paul Stanhope
Produced by Stephen Snelleman
Mixed & Mastered by Jakub Gaudasinski
Recording Engineer Jakub Gaudasinski

Recorded at UKARIA Cultural Centre, Peramangk Country,
South Australia, September 2020

Angelina Zucco – ASQ Chief Executive
Sophie Emery – ASQ Operations Manager
Artwork – Jim Tsinganos Illustration
Art Direction – Cul-de-Sac Creative

Special thanks to Paul Stanhope for his valued support of this release.


My third string quartet was written with many thoughts still spinning about the Kimberley region in the north-west of Australia, where I travelled a number of times in preparation for the large dramatic cantata Jandamarra: Sing for the Country, premiered by the Sydney Symphony in 2014. This string quartet reflects on aspects of the story of Jandamarra who lived in the late 1880s and 90s and its impact on the Kimberley region. Jandamarra, a Bunuba man who initially works as a tracker for white troopers, participates in the hunting down of his own people, before switching sides and becoming a resistance fighter. Although a flawed hero who pays for his heroism with his own life, he is revered by his people as a Jalgangurru – a figure of great cultural spiritual power.

The first movement Tracks and Traces is marked ‘With a relentless sense of pursuit’ and is, at times, claustrophobic, sinister and edgy. Having previously tracked and imprisoned many of his own, Jandamarra becomes Western Australia’s most wanted man. A fast, repeated descending figure heard in the opening of the movement represents musical footprints which are pursued and tracked through various sonic landscapes, at times with close-knit polyphony, patterns twisting and whirling. Related figures are superimposed, drawn out and developed. A slower, middle section brings a quieter intensity as soaring figures in the first violin introduce material that is developed further in the return to the original tempo, where various duos are explored. The spiralling figures of the opening return and the musical hunt is complete.

The melody of Dirrari Lament was composed by a Bunuba woman, Molly Jalakbiya. Her song is a lament about a mother black cockatoo who grieves at the death of her baby. This song was used as a symbol in the Jandamarra cantata as a lament for the passing of the young hero. The movement is essentially a threnody for the departed and was written around the time of my teacher, Peter Sculthorpe’s passing. Given Peter’s tremendous contribution to the string quartet literature, this movement represents a tribute to this great Australian composer.

River-run represents a more optimistic outlook which was inspired by the waterways of the Kimberley. Earlier in 2014, during a rehearsal day on a riverbank not far from Fitzroy Crossing, some of the local kids spent the morning jumping from a tree into the swirling, fast water of the mighty Fitzroy River, known as Martuwarra to peoples of the Kimberley. To my eyes, the water looked dangerous, yet the grannies and aunties guided the kids to a safe spot where they were spun gently back to the beach. This harmonious relationship with landscape may well be an unoriginal observation on my part, but was still impressive! The image of a river that has flowed non-stop for thousands of years was the inspiration for the bubbling energetic music found in this movement. Energetic, rippling musical motifs in this movement also suggest the flowing of time as well as the continuity of culture despite traumatic times. In my mind, this imagined musical river flows over crags of dreadful conflict and searing lament toward a brighter future that is somehow still over the horizon; not quite present, yet also possible. To this end, the piece ends quietly with something of a sense of an unanswered question.

Paul Stanhope © 2015


Paul Stanhope is a Sydney-based composer, conductor and educator. His compositions have had prominent performances in the UK, Europe, Asia as well as North and South America. After studies with Andrew Ford, Andrew Schultz and Peter Sculthorpe in Australia, Paul was awarded the Charles Mackerras Scholarship which enabled him to study at the Guildhall School of Music in London in 2000.

In May 2004 Paul’s international standing was confirmed when he was awarded first place in the prestigious Toru Takemitsu Composition Prize. He has been awarded four APRA/Australian Music Centre Art awards in Instrumental, Orchestral, Choral and Vocal music categories and was also the first composer to receive a Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship in 2013 and 2014.

In 2010 Paul was Musica Viva Australia’s featured composer, receiving nation-wide performances by the Pavel Haas Quartet, the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge and the Atos Piano Trio from Berlin. Paul’s music has also been featured at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival (Wales) in 2009, The City of London Festival in 2011 and at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in 2016. In 2018 a new Piano Trio was premiered by eight competing trios from around the world as part of the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition.

2014 saw the premiere of Jandamarra: Sing for the Country, a music-drama based on the life of the Western Australian Indigenous resistance hero in collaboration with librettist Steve Hawke and members of the Bunuba nation in North Western Australia. Written for large choral and orchestral forces as well as singers, actors and dancers from the Bunuba Community, it was premiered by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and Gondwana Choirs and has since had a return performance in October 2019, presented by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Jandamarra has been recognized as a milestone in Australian composition.

More recently, Sydney Chamber Choir premiered another major work, a Requiem, which has been hailed by the Sydney Morning Herald as a ‘Major Contribution to Australian Choral Music’. A new Violin Sonata which was to be premiered in a national tour by Musica Viva in 2020 will instead receive a digital release in 2021 with a performance by Andrew Haveron and Simon Tedeschi.

Over the last few years, Paul has enjoyed collaborating with the musicians of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and director Tim McGarry in creating the children’s music theatre piece ‘There’s a Sea in my Bedroom’ which premiered in 2019, with a digital release on the Sydney Opera House’s channel in 2020. ‘Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge’, based on the children’s book by Mem Fox, is a joyful and touching follow up collaboration with the ACO to be premiered in May 2021, this time under the directorship of Sandie Eldridge. A new work, Giving Ground for chamber orchestra, will be premiered by the ACO Collective in August 2021.

Paul is an Associate Professor of Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney and also the Artistic Chair of the Australia Ensemble, UNSW.

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