In the beginning, fun (Sainsbury)

Portrait of Christopher Sainsbury sitting on a staircase, resting his chin on his hand.
Christopher Sainsbury, composer of Dharug descent

He writes songs, choral pieces, chamber pieces, orchestral pieces, and jazz, and enjoys it all.

Christopher Sainsbury has made a steady and sustained contribution to Australian music since the mid-1980s.

Sainsbury teaches composition at the Australian National University in Canberra. Previously he worked for many years as the Head of Arts & Media at the Eora Centre, an Indigenous Tertiary College in Sydney. Significantly, he is an Australian Indigenous composer, being a descendant of the Dharug people (often known as the Eora or Cadigal) of Sydney and surrounds. He is the founder and artistic director for the Ngarra-burria: First Peoples Composers program.

1980s commissions were from Australian flute elder Gordon Yemm, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Newcastle Bi-centenary Authority, his previous home group, the Central Coast Symphony Orchestra, and more.

Recent commissions are from the Friends of Chopin Australia, from Dan Walker’s Oriana Choir, former Senator Bob Brown (an earth anthem), the Griffyn Ensemble, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Central Coast Youth Orchestra, Melbourne Conservatorium Faculty group Ensemble Three, Roland Peelman for the Canberra International Music Festival, and from Richard Mills for the Victorian Opera.

He writes songs, choral pieces, chamber pieces, orchestral pieces, and jazz, and enjoys it all. He might explore regional identity through his work, or Indigenous narratives, contemporary guitar techniques (the guitar being his instrument), and at times jazz influences may be found sounding through his work.


For string quartet and marimba

New CSO commission

We so often hear grand or serious music pertaining to the universe, the stars and the planets, such as John Williams’ main theme for Star Wars. And at times we might hear the opposite – sublime music such as ‘Venus, The Bringer of Peace’, from The Planets by Gustav Holst.

But what if the beginnings of the universe were simply fun? And if God exists, what if he was simply told by his mum to go outside and play for a while, or to maybe make something?

Perhaps that’s how we got the universe!

There are some more organic or serious moments, but it keeps coming back to fun and play.

This is the approach in this piece. It’s about fun and play.

There are some more organic or serious moments, but it keeps coming back to fun and play.

Whilst it is fun and playful, all of the harmonic and melodic material in the work stems from three pentatonic scales a major third apart, based on C, E and Ab. It’s deliberately quite symmetrical. This symmetry is extended in the A section through the employment of various canon techniques, including an inverted canon and a retrograde mensuration canon.

To interrupt this order, I introduce an element of randomness by alluding to comets in the various ‘drifting melodic lines’ which pass through the canon. These lines then largely inform the B and middle sections of the work, which still utilise the main A material as well, yet more organically, in a more through composed way.

The work closes with a slightly more developed return of the A section material.

Commissioned by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra for their Australian (Chamber) Series 2022.

© Christopher Sainsbury, 2021

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