Sally Greenaway

Quietude is one of those unique works that brings everyone who listens to it physical sensations at the sheer scale of its expression and meaning.


Sally Greenaway is a multi-award-winning Australian composer hailing from Canberra. Her music spans a multiplicity of styles and genres including classical solo, chamber and orchestral works; jazz ensembles and big bands; and film, documentary and advertising soundtracks. Greenaway specialised in jazz piano at the Australian National University (ANU) School of Music before continuing studies at the Royal College of Music in London, where she received the Lucy Anne Jones award.

Greenaway has worked with leading Australian soloists, ensembles and arts organisations, including Musica Viva, the Melbourne and Canberra symphony orchestras, Melbourne Recital Centre in conjunction with the Myer Foundation, the RMC Big Band, Trichotomy, Muses Trio and PLEXUS, as well as school and community groups including Woden Valley Youth Choir and Canberra Grammar School.

Accolades include an APRA-AMC Art Music Award (2017), two Canberra Critics Circle Awards (2015, 2017), the Merlyn Myer Composing Women’s Award (2015) and the Canberra International Music Festival’s Young Composer Award (2009).

Greenaway has lectured at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and the Canberra Institute of Technology Music Industry Centre, and given guest lectures at Monash University, the ANU and the Royal College of Music in London. In her spare time, she dabbles in historic keyboard instruments including the harpsichord and clavichord.

Photo: Ivor Hind, body artwork by Anne Hind


Sally Greenaway
Quietude (2015)
PLEXUS commission

Breathtaking. Fragility, beauty and the futility of war were expressed by Greenaway in this very special work. The Salon resonated with exquisite sounds that filled this sacred space and lingered long in its lofty places.

The Culture Concept Circle, 16 March 2015

Quietude was composed in reflection of the turmoil of the First World War and explores Richard Aldington’s poem ‘Bombardment’. It was commissioned by PLEXUS
in 2015 and received its premiere performance in the intimate setting of Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon.

The idea of the continuousness of nature, despite the destruction around it, is an enduring feature reflected in the works of wartime writers and painters. Aldington’s poem ‘Bombardment’ gives a viewpoint from his experience as a soldier on the Western Front. Its harrowing account builds to the final stanza’s metaphysical suggestion, and provides the inspiration and departure point for Greenaway’s Quietude.

An invitation to compose for PLEXUS brings feelings of awe and apprehension. The musicians that make up the trio are renowned and respected for their Olympic-level musicianship; as an ensemble, their virtuosity in the interconnectedness of their playing and attention to the score is at the height of musical nuance. The combination of writing for this elite ensemble coupled with the complex topic of war commanded considerable research and a seriousness in the composing approach.

The great simplicity of the piece masks its complexity: its opening notes carefully weave between the violin and clarinet, obfuscating two straightforward descending scales. This fragile and exposed intertwining creates an eerie calm for the pastoral lament. The piano’s understated, lontano entry is a recurring, slow-moving, brooding manifest of chords: the resurfacing of memories associated with the destruction amassed on the Western Front.

This material is developed throughout the ternary form of the piece. The middle section is disfigured, with the melodic material inverted in controlled, systematic increases and decreases in pitch. At its climax are jarring rhythms and angular intervals: all expressive of the relentlessness of the Western Front and the shellshock endured by those who survived. 

Eventually, the piece reveals a profoundly emotive statement of the theme, this time with piano accompaniment to add to the harmonic framework, revealing the depth of human fragility and an affirmation of survival. The composer requests that the violinist and clarinettist turn slowly and move towards the back of the stage (or the edge of the audience) for the final section of the piece, achieving a distant effect yet delicately pulling the audience intimately into the final notes as they dissolve in the acoustic.

Translating history, human experience and a significant poem into musical notes is an extreme sport for a composer, but it is certainly impossible without the delicacy
and intricacy of the musicians who bring the notes to our hearts and minds. Quietude is one of those unique works that brings everyone who listens to it physical sensations at the sheer scale of its expression and meaning.

© Sally Greenaway

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