“I can think of few present day composers of accessible piano music who have produced such a range of beautifully crafted and appealing works.”
Sir Frank Callaway, AO, CMG, OBE
“Wilcher’s music shows an extraordinary sense of symmetry and beauty.”
Dr. Rita Crews
Music Teacher’s Association of
New South Wales.
“This music [Vale] is two minutes of sheer perfection. Listening to it I am reminded of the famous comment that sculpture is not so much the creation itself, as the removal of that which is unnecessary, to reveal the beauty lying within.”
“The poetry of ‘Consolation’ and ‘Continual Dew’ reveals a melancholy unsurpassed even by Chopin.”
“Talking of Chopin, ‘Chopiniana’ written for Dulcie Holland’s 80th birthday, represents what is for me Wilcher’s masterpiece. It bears one of the hallmarks of greatness in that it sounds familiar even on first hearing it.”
Fine Music Guide- 2MBS-FM
“It would be nice to think that an Australian composer as skillful as Phillip Wilcher need only write his music, then leave its promotion to others. But this is Australia, the land of just a favoured few in composers. I find him at his most impressive in sparsely-textured pieces, well-shaped, and possessing a memorable stillness and intensity.”
“Wilcher writes extremely well for the piano, with a fine ear for the instrument’s sonorities and poetic potential. This is music by an Australian whose roots are obviously grounded in the Liszt to Debussy period and who is producing outstandingly crafted piano music.”
The Australian Society for
“Mr. Wilcher can say in less than two minutes, sometimes, in fact, in less than one, what many other composers take five minutes to say, then still don’t achieve their purpose.”
“He [Wilcher] has an astonishing variety of styles in which he writes.”
Music Teacher Magazine
“He [Wilcher] shows a standard of ability especially valuable these not-so-disciplined days.”
Dr. Franz Holford
Founder of Canon Music Journal
Professor of Music
University of Houston
“Skillful and touching……”
American Pulitzer Prize winning
“To have the gift of creativity is very special indeed and you [Phillip] seem to have an abundance of it. “
“I am thrilled to observe the different styles in which you write with such great care for melodic detail and harmonic interest. Long may it continue.”
The Australian Opera.
“Phillip Wilcher does not like to be photographed. He describes himself as shy and somewhat reclusive, and he prefers the distance given by a sketch as opposed to a camera.
Yet his music is more revealing of the soul than a camera can ever be. He does not attempt to hide behind virtuosity; his style is gentle and intimate.
The titles of his works are often as carefully crafted as the music itself. The Walls of Ukhaydir, The Sphinx and the Sycamore, Catacombs, Winter Grove under a Waning Moon, and Out of the Blowing Sands. You end up feeling as if every one of them must have a story behind it.
‘I try to be as evocative in my titles as I am in my music,’ Wilcher says. ‘Chiaroscuro (a set of three miniatures depicting paintings by Picasso, Degas and Monet) was written when I somewhat carelessly believed art and music were related. But painting is an inhabitant of space, and music is of time.’ The titles within another set of miniatures, Haiga, were taken from Japanese paintings. These are exceptions, as Wilcher’s titles would usually follow once composition was complete.
Jeanell Carrigan, a Sydney-based pianist who has done much for the promotion of Australian composers, agrees that the musical realization of his titles is where Phillip’s extraordinary musical talent lies. ‘He manages to use a musical language that is perfectly suitable to whatever mood he is trying to portray,’ she says. ‘Whether he wishes to transport the listener to a café in Paris or to the top of a mountain in Java, his skilful use of harmony, rhythm and tempi creates the perfect atmosphere.’
The Australian Society of Keyboard Music describes Wilcher as ‘most impressive in sparsely textured pieces, well-shaped and possessing a memorable stillness and intensity’. Stylistically, his music encompasses Romanticism, Impressionism and contemporary – ‘Whatever that means. What matters to me is the craftsmanship – that a composer has developed their technique as best they can to the point where they are nothing other than articulate,’ Wilcher says.
Phillip Wilcher was born in Sydney in 1958, began studies at the age of eight and wrote his first serious composition by the age of 14. The composition, Daybreak, was published by J Albert and Sons Pty Ltd, making Wilcher the youngest published composer in Australia at that time. Studies with Dr, Franz Holford, himself a student of Cortot, and later with Elpis Liossatos, developed his skills as a pianist and composer.
Although the piano is his primary instrument, Wilcher has written over 70 examples of art song, setting verses by James Joyce, Walt Whitman, A E Housman and Elizabeth 1. He has also just completed a set of nine pieces for cello and piano titled Woven by Moonlight. Earlier works include pieces for the oboe, flute and violin with piano.
Looking at the sketches of Phillip Wilcher on the front of his two recent CDs of piano music, one is struck by aspects of Chopin. Indeed, as a composer of a work titled Chopiniana, one must wonder how much of an influence that great Romantic was.
‘How can he not be?’ answers Wilcher. ‘His innate understanding of the human hand and what it can do at the keyboard and just the sheer beauty of his sound must surely touch you in some way.’
Chopiniana composed for Dulcie Holland’s 80th birthday, is probably the best known of all his works. He sought to write something Chopinesque, but without forsaking the stamp of his own patina. Technically, the work is of moderate difficulty and it is a favourite among HSC students. Dulcie herself described it as a ‘perfect bloom’.
Clearly, Chopin was a conscious influence. But what of other influences that are found in Wilcher’s music? To what degree are they conscious?
It has been said of his work that it sounds French. Wilcher acknowledges that he has been compared to other composers of whom he has limited knowledge, including Satie and Poulenc. ‘I think the French in my music is from the accent – or rather, the lack of it. It’s a little like the language – liquid-like.’
A very good example of this is the whimsical Café Bijou, which seem to capture the same spirit of ‘Gay Paris’ as did Satie in Jet e veux.
Peter Sculthorpe wrote about Wilcher’s use of Indonesian scales before Wilcher himself even knew what they were, let alone that he had used them in his compositions!
Jeanell Carrigan talks of his moving from the pentatonic harmonies of Asia to the more romantic tonalities of Chopiniana and Consolation.
‘I may make a conscious decision to employ harmonies from other cultures,’ says Wilcher. ‘This imposes a certain limitation on what I do because I am immediately working within a texture – the harmonic cell and scale pattern offer their own melody, even though the melody itself is mine.’
Working within self-imposed boundaries, be it a given harmonic pattern, the setting of words of a poem or the writing of a fugue, sets a discipline. ‘Within that scope you can fly anywhere! This is the language of discipline. But are we talking about musical influences alone? There are just as many people from other worlds of dramatic art, dance and literature whose worth reaches one – Nureyev, Piaf, Truman Capote, who were all articulate and true in what they did.’
Wilcher draws the line at atonality. ‘I don’t understand atonality – aurally, how can one?’ Again, it comes back to styles and craftsmanship. It is not a discipline that feeds his senses of creativity. ‘I would never consider writing anything for the prepared piano,’he says. ‘I have too much respect for the instrument. It is a bit like asking a singer to undergo minor surgery on their vocal chords to sing a song written for prepared voice. I do not like superficiality in music – I want sincerity. I believe in the strength that is sincerity.’
The recent releases of his piano music, issued under his own label, show him to be a miniaturist. What, if any, are his larger works? The only large-scale works he has written are the two Rhapsody Sonatas and the Sonatina after The Path of the Air by Rene Magritte, but he felt just as much satisfaction when he completed his small piece Continual Dew:
‘If a composer can say in a little under a page what Beethoven or Mahler said in an entire symphony, who is to say who has written the large-scale work? It is a question of content and, of course, quality, and only saying what is essential.’
Of the compositional process itself, Wilcher says he does not always know how he does what he does, and that can be a fear in itself – a fear that a composition won’t work, or even that it will work too well and leave him unsure as to how it all came about.
‘An idea presents itself and to a certain degree writes itself. That is not to say I hear a complete piece or melody in my head. There’s a texture or sonority I want to project and way leads on to way. While composing something, my awareness of all that is around me is heightened, acutely so, but I can’t tell you at that time what I am thinking. To catch creativity on the wing would stem its flow.’
Jeanell Carrigan notes the way Wilcher writes for the piano reflects his own considerable skill as a pianist and shows a deep understanding of the sonority of which the instrument is capable. ‘He places his works in a range on the keyboard which best suits the instrument,’ she says. ‘The writing is pianistic by nature and above all very playable.’
Wilcher himself has rather large hands and this often means that pianists with smaller hands need to adapt the music slightly. However, the same can indeed be said of Rachmaninov! Jeanell concludes : ‘ Phillip Writes music with the pianist and listener in mind and for both it is an enjoyable experience.’
Phillip Wilcher is a composer of whom we shall be hearing a lot more in the coming years. Not for him, it seems, the sounds of a big orchestra or sweeping film scores – at least not if they compromise what is most important to his artistic integrity – sincerity.”
‘Attuned to the God of small things – the music of Phillip Wilcher’
2MBS-FM Fine Music Guide
I reviewed two of Mr. Wilcher’s songs in a recent edition of this journal (Music Teacher Magazine), and after singing them, found they had a positive impact on me. Furthermore, the more I sing them, the more I read into them, to the extent that I may include a couple in a student recital later this year. Readers of this magazine will know my dedication to poetry, and to find a composer who is equally dedicated is not that common. Here, however, we have such a composer. There is much more to Phillip Wilcher’s songs than is conveyed on paper. He seems a miniaturist in his songs, but don’t be fooled by the short performance time they occupy. Good miniatures are far more difficult to execute than extended works because the composer has such a short time in which to say all that he has to say, and in my experience of singing these songs, Phillip Wilcher has said a great deal.
The songs for review are “To Music When Soft Voices Die” by Shelley, and dedicated to Fay Boyd; “A Widow Bird Sate Mourning” also by Shelley; “I Hear Leaves Drinking Rain” dedicated to Ned Rorem, the words by W.H. Davies; and “Ecce Puer” by James Joyce.
I reiterate that, on paper, these songs look relatively simple, like so many good songs, but they require and deserve real study to execute them well. The printed page is just the tip of a considerable iceberg. They are most enjoyable to sing and to hear, and convey the meaning of the poems extremely well.
A review does not need to be long to say all that needs to be said, and like Phillip Wilcher, I am content, in this context, to be a miniaturist, and leave it at that for all four. However, I would seriously urge my singing colleagues to purchase, study and perform these songs. All six I have now reviewed would make an ideal bracket of songs by an Australian composer, in a solo recital by singers who love good poetry, and goodness knows, that should mean all of us. Highly recommended.
Music Teacher Magazine
Phillip Wilcher’s “Island Nocturne” for cello and piano reflects the mood of the descriptive verse, also by Phillip Wilcher, which is printed on the opening page of this well presented composition:
“There is an isle of enchantment,an isle for reverie,where bowing palms and gentle ferns,edge the water in rock-like urnsbefore it reaches the sea,an isle for you and me – where evening skies through star-swept clouds sift a pale moon’s mystic light,where the rhythm of the sea’s turquoise mysteries
brandish frost-fired jewels at night,dappling dark waters bright.”
An effective performance of this work will result in a beautifully languid, balmy, serene and dream-like atmosphere.
This piece is not technically demanding. In all breve time with simple rhythmic patterns and relatively manageable position changes, “Island Nocturne” would suit a student of approximately Grade 3 standard.
Music Teacher Magazine
Wilcher’s works for oboe and cor anglais (including “Tolmie Tune” and “1791”) are beautifully written for these instruments. They suit the instruments perfectly and whether accompanied by piano, strings or voices, the atmosphere created is magical. It is a joy to add these works to the Australian oboe and cor anglais repertoire
(Oboist and Cor Anglais player)
Much of Phillip Wilcher’s music is absolutely lovely. It has a hauntingly lyrical dream-like idyllic beauty. Phillip is about the only contemporary composer whose music I really love
Professor Raymond Smullyan
Mathematician, Logician, Philosopher
All of the work “Out of the Blowing Sands” seems to me to be delicately etched. Your work is unique for me. Some of your deeply moving and pleasant work reminds me of Chopin – lingering here and there – and gracefully moving on
John Gracen Brown
“Phillip Wilcher’s music dreamily evokes another time, another place. It has a searching quality that conjures up images of the great Romantic composers. Phillip wrote a recital for me, which I hope to present soon. Included in that are the ETUDES TEDESCHI, which have all the flavour and technical imagination of similar great works in the piano repertoire. I am proud to watch the evolution of this musician and composer who I count as a great personal friend.”
Simon Tedeschi – pianist.
“I very much enjoyed the balance of buoyancy and melancholy – just the thing for certain afternoons, I think.”
Robert Dessaix, author
“unbelievable – the Scherzo in B minor is my new favourite work, not just of yours, but of all works. Perfect in every way. This piece is so fresh. You are one of the great composers. Just flipping through the score – it’s a masterpiece.”
Paul Carasco, pianist
“I would love to hear the trio. It must be a totally different kettle of fish to write chamber music. I really admire you. I love your work – it all comes across as being very unified and cohesive.”
Simon Tedeschi, pianist
“What a garden of earthly delights. How wonderful to find a living composer writing in melody. It’s really splendid stuff of the highest honour.”