CSO Mixtape: Beyond beautiful

[blockquote author=”Matthew Witney, CSO Violin”]

Good music should go beyond just sounding beautiful. The pieces in this mixtape elicit memories, inspire me to be a better person, or just feel so real I can nearly feel the notes!

Many of these works were inspired by stories or historical events. Others elicit personal, visual landscapes associated with particular memories from when I first heard them. My hope is that these pieces help you to find time to recall and enjoy past memories, or find new inspiration in your future endeavours.


Portrait of a man in an orchestra holding a violin
Matthew Witney, CSO Violin (Image: Martin Ollman)

Matthew Witney was inspired to learn the violin at the age of three after watching Playschool Meets the Orchestra. He studied the violin in the Suzuki Philosophy before completing his AmusA (AMEB) diploma at the age of 13.

Matthew attended the Young Australian National Academy of Music, a program for gifted secondary school students, until its closure in 2008, and has travelled through Europe playing with the Chamber Strings of Melbourne. He has studied with Dr. Evgeny Sorkin, Nelli Shkolnikova and Tor Fromyhr.

As well as playing violin with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Matthew  is currently completing a PhD in Immunology at the Australian National University. His research involves trying to understand how the body recognises and responds to viral infections.


Eugène-Auguste YSAŸE
Sonata for Two Violins in A Minor 
III. Finale (Allegro vivo e con fuoco)

Ysaÿe composed several sonatas for solo violin, which are often played at recitals and violin competitions.

In contrast, this sonata is a duet for two violins. It’s a particular favourite piece of mine because of the full texture of the piece, as the two violin parts meld together. This movement is full of contrasts, alternating between delicate themes that give way to soaring melodies, before finally evolving into an energetic dance.  

III. Scherzo

I learnt about the Australian composer Graeme Koehne when I toured with the Chamber Strings of Melbourne through Europe in 2010.

This piano concerto is full of surprises, light orchestration and a cheeky piano part!

Don Quixote, op. 35 TrV 184:5-6
Variation 2
Variation 3

I discovered Strauss’ tone poems after playing the Don Juan overture with the CSO in 2014. However, my favourite has always been Don Quixote, full of musical delights describing the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. The highlight for me has always been the viola and cello solo in Variation 3, which occasionally inspires me to pick up the viola!

Piano Concertino

I discovered some of the Armenian composer Arutiunian’s pieces as a teenager. Arutiunian also composed for several films; to me, this concertino could easily be part of film music. It’s full of descriptive, visual themes, with each section describing a different scene. The second movement is a real gem.

Port Essington

This suite was inspired by a failed attempt to establish a colony in Northern Australia in 1824. Each movement integrates an element from the historical event, including describing the harsh landscape of Northern Australia, acknowledging the historical presence of Indigenous peoples, and describing the hardship of the ill-fated colony.

To me, this piece exemplifies Sculthorpe’s exploration of the physical and cultural landscape of Australia through music.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Clarinet Quintet in A major

Every year, a recording of this piece would play in the background at the annual family camping trip to the Kosciuszko National Park in December. I associate this Clarinet Quintet with driving through the winding roads of the Kosciuszko region in the early morning, the wind rushing in through the windows and the burnt, grey snowgums stretching into the distance.  

The Easy Winners
(arr. Itzhak Perlman)

Always a fun piece to play!


Syncopation is a light, fresh piece that I first heard played by my violin teacher, Dr. Evgeny Sorkin. To me, the jocular style of this piece, as the violin interacts with the piano, seems to speak words instead of just elicit emotions.

Six Humoresques for Violin and Orchestra:
Humoresque V op. 89c in E flat major

One of six humoresques composed by Sibelius. Each movement represents a distinct, and often cheeky theme.

In this movement, I can’t help but hear the sound of a cuckoo echoing throughout.

Antonín DVOŘÁK 
Humoresque No. 7 in G flat major, op. 101

I learnt a simplified version of Dvořák’s Humoresque as a child, and this piece has remained one of my favourites. Although originally composed for piano, this arrangement features Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma on violin and cello and perfectly suites the piece!

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Violin Sonata No. 21 in E minor, K. 304

When I was ten years old, I was introduced to the Mozart violin sonatas by a school teacher with a background in piano performance. The following summer holidays became a crash course in learning several Mozart violin sonatas at home, followed by attempts to play through each work with the piano. This sonata remains my favourite.

Richard CONNOLLY and Rosemary MILNE
Hip Hip Hooray!

(Play School theme)

I asked my parents if I could play the violin after seeing PlaySchool Meets the Orchestra at the age of three. Initially reluctant, as they preferred the piano, I eventually convinced them and was given a violin for my fourth birthday.

I’ve included this piece not for its musical calibre, but as an acknowledgement of the importance of this kind of musical outreach to young children!


Briefly introduce yourself – tell us your name, your instrument, where you’re living and how you’re connected to the CSO.

Hi, my name is Matthew Witney. I live in Canberra and play violin with the CSO.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician?

The hardest part about being a musician is finding a way to be satisfied with your work. Although I’m not sure this is specific to being a musician!

Who or what motivates you to pursue music?

I grew up surrounded by music, it just seems a necessary part of my life! For me, music has a way of making emotions, ideas and memories become physical sensations instead of just auditory. Music is therefore intricately tied to my childhood memories, and remains a constant source of inspiration.

Name three careers you could see yourself in if you weren’t a musician (and tell us why).

I’ve always had a curiosity for understanding the world beyond music.  Possible non-musical careers could include being an immunologist (medical research) due to my interest in tiny, disease-causing microbes and the eradication of preventable diseases!

I’ve also always had a fascination with the outdoors, so could see myself working as an ecologist, or park ranger.

Finally, I find it rewarding and motivating to teach music and in another life I could have become a secondary school teacher.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in the past year?

Over the past year, the increased isolation, as well as fewer opportunities to rehearse with other musicians due to the pandemic, has really crystallised the concept that music means more when you share the experience.

Name a composer you admire (and tell us why)

If I have to shortlist my favourite composers, those who were also scientists will rank highly! These include Alexander Borodin (a doctor and chemist) and Edward Elgar (a chemist).

Do you think any of the pieces you’ve chosen are underrated? Why?

Some of the pieces in this mixtape are what I consider to be hidden gems. For example, I’ve never heard anyone mention the composer Arutiunian except for the teacher who gave me a CD with a recording of his Piano Concertino. I suspect Arutiunian is lesser known because his pieces seem ‘lighter’, with less dense orchestration, which makes it harder to compete with so-called ‘serious’ classical pieces such as Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto. Or perhaps he is just not well known in Australia!

Other works, such as the Sonata for two violins by Ysaÿe, and the Sibelius’ Humoresques, are probably just less well known because the composers are known for other masterpieces which dominate the recording landscape!

Do these pieces bring to mind any particular memories or associations?

Many of the pieces I’ve chosen have particular associations with locations, people or holidays. When I ‘discovered’ many of these pieces, I would often play them on repeat for days, or even weeks! So, each piece is closely associated with a particular time in my life.

For example, I closely associate Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet with summer holidays in Kosciuszko National Park, while the Koehne Capriccio reminds me of touring Europe with the Chamber Strings of Melbourne.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory related to music?

One of my most treasured childhood memories is of playing the violin on top of Mt. Kosciuszko as the sun rose on Christmas Day with my family (it was freezing!). Taking a violin on holidays became a bit of a tradition during my childhood; I have fond memories of playing the violin in campsites in French Polynesia, Kosciuszko National Park and Queensland’s Fitzroy Island. No violins were harmed in these endeavours!

How would you be enjoying this music in ideal conditions? How is it best enjoyed in iso?

If you listen to music like I do, play these pieces on repeat in the background until you could sing them! Some were inspired by stories – take the opportunity to read about Port Essington, reach for the dusty edition of Don Quixote lying on your bookshelf, or immerse yourself in some German classical literature.

Alternatively, I hope these pieces help trigger some memories in your past that can help inspire you like they do for me!


Related Articles

Skip to content