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Nephesh : for string octet or nonet

by Paul Stanhope (2015)



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Nephesh : for string octet or nonet / Paul Stanhope.

Library shelf no. 785.718/STA 1 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

Nephesh - written for eight or nine string instruments - explores notions of duality, seen most obviously in the splitting of the ensemble into two traditional string quartets in mirror form with the bass acting as a lynchpin. The piece is also split into two movements, outlining a classic Cartesian dualism suggesting soul and body, entitled here "Prayer" and "Dance".

I imagined this Prayer as a physical act, full of sobbing laments, pleas and cries of exaltation. The material for the opening utterances of the piece is derived from Sephardic Chant: that is Jewish liturgical music from a Babylonian tradition. This ancient, beautiful song is heard first in a cello solo with echoes from the violas. A series of rhapsodic interludes are constructed between utterances of the chant. At times soft and sombre, the music builds into an expressive, song-like peak before dissolving once more into more gentle chanting phrases.

The second movement - Dance - is built around jaunty leaps and ping-pong like exchanges of material from one quartet to another. The material first heard as pizzicatos at the beginning is drawn from a selection of pitches from the chant in the first movement, riffing off the major/minor third dichotomy found in the chant heard at the very beginning of the piece. The material is transformed into blues-inflected riffs, ostinatos and numerically-based rhythmic patterns, tossed between the two quartets in a more overt way than in the first movement. After a series of episodes, including a section based around the percussive sounds of the strings, a darker reverie slowly builds toward a feverishly exuberant climax, returning the material back to the original tonal centre of E.

The title "Nephesh" is an ancient Hebrew liturgical word used to denote not only the soul, but also the whole of the self, including the body. Much older than the duality expressed by Rene Descartes, this concept unifies ideas of body and soul as a single entity.

Work Details

Year: 2015

Instrumentation: 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 1 double bass (optional).

Duration: 13 min.

Difficulty: Advanced — Needs professional level string players or advanced tertiary students

Contents note: 1. Prayer -- 2. Dance.

Commission note: Commissioned by Melbourne Chamber Orchestra with funds provided by Robert Salzer Foundation, Australia Council. Music Board.. Commissioned by Melbourne Chamber Orchestra with funds provided by Australia Council. Music Board, Robert Salzer Foundation.

First performance: by Melbourne Chamber Orchestra — 9 Sep 15. Wesley Performing Arts Centre, Horsham, Vic


Resonate article: Paul Stanhope at Townsville - a report from AFCM by Malcolm Gillies


Nephesh (2nd movt), by Paul Stanhope

Performances of this work

12 Mar 2020: at CSO: Love, Kindness, Decency (National Portrait Gallery). Featuring CSO Chamber Orchestra, Kirsten Williams.

31 Jul 2016: at Prayer and Dance (Mary MacKillop Church, Mundingburra ). Featuring Goldner String Quartet, Tinalley String Quartet, Kirsty McCahon.

9 Sep 15: Wesley Performing Arts Centre, Horsham, Vic. Featuring Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.

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