Mondrian Interiors
for solo harp, ob, cl, hn, bsn and pno (2007)
duration: 20’
GRT • 127

youtube (final movement)

score available from
Australian Music Centre

program note
On September 6 in 1997 I was at the Tate Gallery in London. Coincidentally, this was also the day of the funeral for Diana Spencer, and in deference, they didn’t open until midday. Once inside, however, I was pleased to find a special exhibition of the works of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. It highlighted a fascinating development in his style from Symbolism and Cubism to the so–called Neo–Plasticism that he is most identified with today. On my way out, I bought picture cards of the works I liked most with the intention of setting them to music. They remained in their yellow paper bag for years. A decade later the idea came back to me and the cards (in chronological order) suggested the eight movements that comprise ‘Mondrian Interiors’. I don’t think it is essential to view the artworks in order to appreciate the music, but the comparison provides another level of interest. The eight movements are miniatures of varied length and scored either for the full ensemble, solo harp (which is featured) or other varied subsets that this sextet allows.

The Red Tree (1909 - 10) - full ensemble. 2: Tree (c.1913) - a cubist reduction, rendered as a sparse duo for harp and piano. 3: Church at Domburg (c.1914) - solo harp, based on a black and white charcoal sketch. 4: Composition in Oval with Colour Planes (1914) - orchestrated for full sextet to represent the ‘colouring in’ of the previous sketch. 5: Composition Chequerboard, Dark Colours (1919) – piano quintet (no harp). Mondrian described this as a ‘reconstruction of a starry night’. A definite move towards what I see and hear as Minimalism. 6: Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1921) - an early form of his mature style set as a spacious trio for harp, oboe and bassoon. 7: Composition with Yellow Lines (1933) – a brief clarinet and piano duo depicting lines that enigmatically meet only outside the canvas. 8: Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1939-42) - takes the 6th movement to a rhythmically energised conclusion for full ensemble.

The work is dedicated to Marshall McGuire and Southern Cross Soloists, who commissioned the work with assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council for the Arts.

I: The Red Tree (1909 – 10)
full ensemble

II: Tree (c.1913)
duo: harp and piano

III: Church at Domburg (c.1914)
solo harp

IV: Composition in Oval with Colour Planes (1914)
full ensemble

V: Composition Chequerboard, Dark Colours (1919)
quintet (harp tacet)

VI: Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1921)
trio: harp, oboe and bassoon

VII: Composition with Yellow Lines (1933)
duo: clarinet and piano

VIII: Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1939–42)
full ensemble

“The final work, Mondrian Interiors, was commissioned for the group, including the harp, from Melbourne composer Stuart Greenbaum. This piece is in eight movements, all inspired by drawings and paintings of Mondrian and scored for various combinations of the instruments. The idea was that the music should reflect the visual images, and although that is always subjective, it was still very interesting musically. It was at times very sparse, but in other movements complex, with elements of minimalist rhythmic development and suggestions of jazz in some overblown reeds. The final movement used dynamics and a wide range of tone colours over shifting patterns from the harp and piano to bring the concert to a rewarding conclusion.”
Graham McDonald, The Canberra Times, May 2007

“The focal point of the recital came in Stuart Greenbaum's Mondrian Interiors, enjoying its premiere in each city on the Soloists' tour, but on Monday night being played in the composer's hearing for the first time. Greenbaum has written specifically for the group's instrument–personnel configuration, including their current guest, and has musically illustrated eight paintings by the Swiss artist that stretch across his career - from the figurative Red Tree of 1908, into abstraction with Church Facade just before World War I, to the trademark grid compositions of the 1930s.

The Melbourne composer supplies an instantly assimilable aural image to each canvas (on Monday night, projected onto a large screen) with a melodic and harmonic simplicity couched in colourful and clearly-voiced instrumental colours. The work speaks confidently in a sharply etched manner, complementing the Mondrian works, presenting the listener with no intellectual conundrums but making valid musical comments in a conservative, appropriate idiom.”

Clive O’Connell, The Age, May 2007

Mondrian Interiors for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, piano and solo harp (2007) is a work inspired by a series of eight picture cards of paintings by Dutch modernist, Piet Mondrian, cards which the composer purchased after attending a Tate Gallery exhibition in 1997. Each movement is devoted to one of the images. Three of the movements  (I, IV and VIII) employ the full ensemble whilst the other movements are scored for subsets of the ensemble. A feature of the work is the association of colour combinations with musical texture. For example, the third movement, “Church at Domburg” for solo harp is based monochromatically on a charcoal sketch “contained within an oval perimeter”. The following movement, “Composition in Oval with Colour Planes” is a reworking of this material for the full ensemble, thus adding multiple tone colour layers. Like this title, many of the movement titles relate to colour combinations. My pick of the movements is “Tree” which deftly combines the sound colours of harp, piano and plucked piano strings.”
Michael Hannan, Music Trust E–zine, 5 June 2016

“Stuart Greenbaum’s Mondrian Interiors was complemented by projections of the named Mondrian works, and the way the composer combined the six instruments was a delight to witness live.”
Nicky Glutch, AYO Musical Conversations, February 2020