The website of James Humberstone

Concert Music for small (chamber) ensembles

Cycles&Circles (2012). Two pitched percussion instruments, any bass instrument.

Commissioned by Ensemble Offspring for their Music to Infinity tour. In his programme notes, Damien Ricketson wrote:

Cycles and Circles by Australian composer James Humberstone has been especially commissioned for this concert. The work is a welcome addition to a growing body of Ensemble Offspring repertoire that explores facets of openness. The work can be performed on two unspecified pitched percussion instruments, an unspecified bass instrument and programmable music boxes (that respond to a pre-punched scroll similar to a pianola). In this version, the delicate twinkle of the music boxes is mirrored in the rather unusual soundworld of pitched ceramic bowls (the cheap Chinese variety that can be found in most two-dollar shops) and a bass clarinet. Another facet of openness relates to the harmonic colour of the work. The melodic material is conceived as simple contours (a sequence of scale degrees) rather than specific pitches.

As such, the melodies may be rendered into a variety of possible modes at the discretion of the performers. Further, each musician plays their repeated melodic cells in a pattern of their own choosing free to meander away from (and even deliberately out of time with) their fellow ensemble members. The correspondence of pitches and rhythms gently shift in an out of focus like a delicate machine holding onto a fragile sense of synchronicity.

This work is published by the Australian Music Centre. In addition, a related education kit providing musicological background and listening and composition exercises is available at the Ensemble Offspring website.

Listen to a recording of Ensemble Offspring performing Cycles&Circles. Of course, this performance represents only one possible realisation.

Concertino for Double Bass (2010). Double Bass and small String Orchestra (could be performed by an ensemble as small as 2,2,2,2,1).

Commissioned by MLC School for Aurora Henrich.

  Download a sample of the score, and listen to a recording of the second movement below.

Kaede (2007). Horn, Violin, Cello and Piano.

A theme and variations on the traditional Japanese folk song Sakura, with additional influence from John Cage's In a Landscape, Kaede was composed as a piece for moderate standard horn solo with advanced accompaniment: ideal as a showy solo for music exams or recitals as well as concert repertoire for this ensemble.

  Download a sample of the score, and listen to an excerpt below.

She Is (2006). Violin Duet.

A jolly violin duet I composed for the processional at my wedding.

  Download the complete score, and listen to a recording by Hannah Buckley below.

three snapshots from the old man (2006). Clarinet in B flat, Cello, Piano.

Three short programmatic pieces written after climbing the Old Man of Coniston, close to where I grew up and went to school. Composed as a Christmas gift to my father and mother-in-law, who play cello and clarinet.

  Download a complete score. I'd very much like a recording of this piece, so please send me one if you perform it!

Two Songs for Flute and Acoustic Guitar (2005). Flute, Acoustic Guitar.

Contact James for further details and a sample score.

Hiroshima (2005). Flute, Clarinet in B flat, Violin, Cello, Piano.

Commissioned and premiered by advanced students of Caringbah High School. This piece was inspired by a moving visit to the Hiroshima memorial with my family in June 2005.

  Download a sample of the score, and listen to an excerpt of the recording below, performed by Christopher Hayles (fl), Mark Walton (cl), Paul Stanhope (pno), Doretta Balkizas (vln) and Susan Kim (cel).

Three Moments (2004). Flute, cello and piano.

Composed for a friend who was moving to the US to study. The unison cello and flute lines were inspired by Howard Skempton's Surface Tension - a sound I also explored in Under the Surface.

  Download a sample of the score, and listen to a complete recording below.

How Wonderful and Unexpected (2004). Text by Robertson Fox. Choir: soprano and alto voices in three combinations (unaccompanied).

I have been fortunate enough to work with poet and friend Robertson Fox on a number of works, including First of Winter which is inlcuded below. The commission for this work was specified to be a piece which was based on Christian philosophy, but not of any one particular Christian faith. Fox wrote the moving other-worldly text, and I explored fifths and sevenths, a preoccupation I have with ways of building harmony outside functional systems.

  Download a sample of the score, and listen to a recording by the MLC Tour choir, performed in Chrudim in the Czech Republic, below.

Chance : Chants (2003). Piano, Violin, Flute, Oboe, Mandolin, Bass Guitar.

Commissioned and premiered by Plastic Atlas, Chance : Chants includes four parts of differing lengths (both physically and temporally, each being relative) which are each performed a different number of times, exploring the "phasing slowed down" idea of my String Quartet and only beginning and ending together. Within each part are a number of choices for the performer, beginning with silence, then progressing through chant (played or sung), ostinati, song (melodic type lines) and finally free improvisation. Reviewing the premiere performance, Peter McCallum wrote:

James Humberstone's chance: chants works on the principle of large-scale phases as the five instruments (piano, mandolin, flute, oboe and violin) repeat parts of varying lengths to fit a pre-established time scale to create bright harmonies in an immediate and engaging floating world.

Scores can be located by contacting the composer. Below is the complete premiere performance by Plastic Atlas featuring Kathleen Gallagher (flutes), Li-Ling Chen (oboe), Alex Norton (violin), Michael Hooper (mandolins, bass guitar) and Andrew Robbie (piano).

Piece for Jonathan and Alexia (2002). Piano, Chime Bars, Voices and Flutes or any other treble instruments.

Contact James for further details and a sample score.

Ropaloon (2001). Soprano, Bass Clarinet, Drums, Double Bass.

Commissioned and premiered by Michelle Morgan and the Chelate Compound (Simon Barker (drums) and Steve Elphick (bass)). A crazy, jazzy character piece, of which Lewis Carroll would almost definitely have approved.

  Download a sample of the score, and listen to the Chelate Compound's complete performance below.

Verse for 8 voices or 8-part Choir (2001). Text by Lao Tzu. SSAATTBB.

A tribute to Cornelius Cardew's Great Learning paragraphs. At the time I composed this piece I was writing my masters thesis on the music of David Ahern, and feeling Cardew's influence as I had when I studied Skempton's music. This piece was commissioned and premiered by the C21 festival.

  Download a sample of the score, and listen to the festival performance below.

First of Winter (2001). Words by Robertson Fox. Soprano, Flute, Piano.

A commission for the C21 festival in 2001, where after a few problems finalising the soprano soloist, I sang it myself an octave down. A studio recording was made soon after, featuring Michele Morgan (soprano), Geoff Collins (flute) and Andrew Robbie (piano). Robertson Fox had been kind enough to share his poem First of Winter earlier that year, and I was so moved by the work I knew I had to set it to music. I explored modal motifs for joy and sadness that I had first explored in God Child, combined with simple harmonic language inspired by Philip Glass.

  Download a sample of the score, and listen to the studio performance below.

Sarah’s Piece (2001). Oboe and any bass instrument.

Contact James for further details and a sample score.

String Quartet (1995). String Quartet.

One of my most frequently performed works, exploring the idea of phasing over longer periods of time than are found in the minimalist works of composers such as Steve Reich. When this piece featured at Australian Music Day in 2012, I created this short video outlining the ideas behind its composition. In addition, a studio recording was made featuring Doretta Balkizas (violin 1), Jonathan Hendl (violin 2), Nicole Forsyth (viola) and Eleanor Betts (cello).

  There is no score, but you can download a PDF showing all 4 parts, and listen to the studio performance below.

Three Miniatures (1994). Piano, Clarinet in B flat, Violin.

Contact James for further details and a sample score.

Solo Solo Solo