by Sean Williams

"Release of Anger"

1984 - YCA (1).jpg

In 1984, during my final year of high school, I wrote a lot of music. Some of it was submitted for assessment, some of it tastefully vanished forever. One work I entered into a young composer’s award - and to my amazement and incredible delight, it won.

“Release of Anger” is a theme and variations (the standard format for assessment back then) written for a string quartet with solo trumpet, flute and oboe. Its original title was probably something much sillier (more on that in another post) but that detail is lost in time. I remember thinking when devising a new name that an edge of teen angst wouldn’t hurt. Apparently not.

I vividly remember the night I was told by phone that my work had won. It was very late, and as a result of my excitement didn’t do very well in my exam the next morning. Still, who cares about Chemistry? Music ftw!

The winning works were performed by professional musicians, which was an incredible experience for a young composer. I was even offered the chance to conduct, but declined. Although I was told the concert was recorded, no tape ever appeared. Thus, I have only my memories of that single performance to remind me of how it sounded. Not talented at actually playing anything, and lacking anything like a synthesizer, I wrote more or less entirely inside my own head (with sometimes a sight-reading from my extraordinarily talented music teacher, John Drake). Hearing “Release of Anger” again has long been a dream that I thought would never be a reality.

These days, software for performing music is everywhere, and my old manuscripts are safely stored at the University of Queensland’s Fryer Library. It took but an email to obtain a scan and the time it took to transcribe the score into my computer and press play.

And here it is. Not as dynamic as it might have been back in the day (computers can only do so much) but still fabulous to hear.

It’s amazing, given I wrote the thing, how much I had forgotten about it. Basically, only the first bar or two of the opening motif remained - although I did remember the general operating principle of the composition (What if every chord was minor?). My first impressions on hearing it now are of how influenced I was by composers like Poulenc and Satie, even back then, long before I realised just how awesome they truly were. I’m impressed by my younger self’s ability to throw himself at an idea and see what happens - something that gets harder to do as one gets older. (A timely reminder.) I particularly like the melodic elements of the second movement (starting around the 0:52 mark) and the messy drama of the end. Teen angst indeed.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this blast from my past. Hardly a golden oldie, but an important touchstone on my journey to writing Impossible Music.