Sonata for Flute and Piano (2015)
duration: 22’
GRT • 181

YouTube (1st movement)

score available from
Australian Music Centre

program note
I. distance to Ganymede: 628,300,000 km
II. ice crust: 150 km thick
saltwater ocean underground
IV. for those in peril on the sea

Sonata for Flute and Piano is written for Emma Sholl. It is the 7th in a series of sonatas undertaken in the new millennium. The work in 4 movements is a contemplation of the projected discovery in March 2015 of a huge underground ocean on Ganymede – Jupiter’s largest moon (also the largest in our solar system and unique in having its own magnetic field).

The 1st movement contemplates the sheer distance of Ganymede from Earth, a journey that would likely begin in excitement, but gradually slow in drama – the second half of the movement harmonically (or cryogenically) frozen in time. Supposing anyone actually made it alive to Ganymede, they would then be standing on an icy crust 150km thick. The 2nd movement ponders the seeming impenetrable scale of that. Extending the science fiction scenario a little further, even if we made it through the ice into the saltwater underground ocean, would we find life in the fluid darkness? It’s an alluring idea – given scope in the 3rd movement – but a long way from home and probably deadly. The final, brief 4th movement is a secular benediction for those in peril on the sea.

“Two sonatas for flute and piano bookend Volume 2, beginning with the energised, intergalactic landscapes of Stuart Greenbaum”
Jessie Cunniffe, Brisbane Times, August 2020

“The world premier recording opens the program – Sonata for Flute and Piano by Stuart Greenbaum, written in 2015 as part of his series of 20 sonatas for different instruments. It continues on from other cosmically-inspired works by this composer, taking us on a journey into his imaginary extra-terrestrial world. The first of four movements, entitled “distance to Ganymede: 628,300,000 km”, is described as a “contemplation of the projected discovery of a huge underground ocean on Ganymede –  Jupiter’s largest moon ”; its arresting opening speeds us from earth,  momentum gradually slowing as we enter the silence of outer space – calm, optimistic and lyrical. The second movement “ice crust:150 km thick” is an intense evocation of a cold, icy environment and crystalline, frozen stillness. Next we enter a “saltwater ocean underground”, slowly at first, eventually leading to water as depicted by rolling figures for piano and liquid flute passages. The final movement is a short, poignant dedication “for those in peril on the sea”. This major work, around 20 minutes long, is an impressive addition to the repertoire and it is hard to imagine a more insightful interpretation for its first recording than this from Derek Jones and Cameron Roberts.”
Gwen Bennett, Music Trust E-Zine, August 2020

“On this collection, five works embrace a fair gamut of contemporary music written in this country. The most up-to-date in time is the Sonata for Flute and Piano of 2015 by Stuart Greenbaum. Greenbaum’s four-movement work is the most substantial on the CD, coming in at close to 20 minutes. 

Greenbaum takes stellar inspiration for his work. Three of its movements are specifically connected with Jupiter’s moon Ganymede and the projected discovery of an underground ocean on that satellite. For the first movement, the composer meditates on the distance to Ganymede: 628, 300, 000 km; the movement is a contrast between busy groups of four semiquavers and wide-arching lyrical stretches at the movement’s centre. Jones and Roberts are well occupied, the former asked for a series of sustained notes towards the movement’s end, and the busy semiquavers of the opening reduced to slower note values in the final page(s).
Next, Greenbaum centres on depicting the moon’s ice crust: 150 km thick, The music is initially slow, solemnly paced and packed with low notes on the flute, silences, small glissandi with the odd quarter-tone. More agile measures emerge at the movement’s core but the motion remains sporadic, regular motion giving way to the opening’s sustained notes and pointillist breaks in the silence.

When we move seamlessly to saltwater ocean underground, Greenbaum gives us a meditative flute solo before Roberts joins in with a sort of ever-expanding cantus firmus which eventually moves to the right hand partnering the flute’s triplet fluency. Here, more than anywhere else in the work, you are firmly rooted in a specific tonality and the impression remains one of benignity – a fluent body of water but optimism-generating.

The brief final movement is a sort of antiphon/response dialogue between the instruments, its main motif a short figure of a perfect fifth interval played rapidly twice; it’s something like a bugle call and the piano mainly sticks to it while the flute has more liberty to wander. Still, the wind instrument has the last word. This produces an unexpected sense of fulfilment to the work, the music’s action a reflection of the preceding two movements in some ways. But the reference also brings the inter-stellar ambience back to something more Earth-bound: a benediction on all humanity, it seems, not just cosmonauts and astronomers.

It’s obvious that this CD is essential listening for anybody with a commitment to serious Australian music.”

Clive O’Connell, O’Connell the Music, May 2021