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Portrait of FH

for orchestra with optional narrator part

Year:  2009   ·  Duration:  28m
Instrumentation:  2222; 2220; 2perc., timp., piano; strings with optional narrator part for texts to be spoken between movements of the music

Year:  2009
Duration:  28m
Instrumentation  2222; 2220; 2perc., timp., ...

Composer:   Anthony Ritchie


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Portrait of FH was commissioned by The Southern Sinfonia and written as part of a presentation about the life of great NZ artist, Frances Hodgkins. It reflects on aspects of the artist's life, ranging from her early days in NZ in the late 19th century through to the 'flowering of her career' in the 1940s, when she was one of the leading modernist painters of her generation.

The work opens with the Frances doodling at the piano (an instrument she played), improvising a theme, which then gets woven into the fabric of the piece. The orchestra enters with a flourish, and both the Prelude and 'Water- colours' are optimistic and lively in tone.

In 'Water-colours' I took as a cue Frances' statement "I made the paint dance," and a waltz feel pervades the piece. 'Oils', by contrast, is somber in tone, with a sense of loneliness and also reflects the hardships of war. 'Gouaches' is strange and colourful in sound, and becomes heroic in tone towards the end, before an unresolved ending, in which the piano returns again.

All movements are connected by the use of a musical motif, F-B which, when using the traditional German note names, spell F-H. This motif, representing Frances, also relates to the whimsical, poignant self-portraits she painted.

This work was the brainchild of art collector and curator Marshall Seifert, and it is to Marshall that I dedicate the music.

Commissioned note

Commissioned by the Southern Sinfornia from Dunedin

Dedication note

Dedicated to Marshall Seifert

Contents note

I - Water-colours
II - Oils
III - Gouache

Text note

Script by Catherine Chidgey, based on letters by Frances Hodgkins

Performance history

21 Mar 2009: Southern Stars Concert