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Herr Beethoven’s Audiologist

Vincent Plush Composer
Kristen Sutcliffe Bassoon

Program note:

This short work was commissioned by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra to showcase its principal bassoonist, Kristen Sutcliffe, to whom it is dedicated. Despite its short duration (under 4 minutes, as specified by the commission), the piece attempts to combine several ideas.

Kristen is a qualified and practising audiologist working in Canberra. I searched for an idea that would combine both aspects of her professional life, hearing and music. As I was planning the piece, there was some deal of discussion about the hearing problems of Beethoven. In 2020, our musical lives gravitated around the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

At this same time, I had an audiology test of my own at Melbourne University. In past years, I used to be able to tell pitches and even actual frequencies, perhaps the legacy of my training, long ago, as an organist and in computer music. Today, my capacity to identify pitches and frequencies has slipped considerably. Still, my audiologist and I had fun as I attempted to identify the pitches of the blips that passed from one ear to the other and the low rumbles that seemed to be variants of white or coloured noise.

In my second orchestra piece Concord: Eendracht (1989), I quoted a fragment from the slow movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 (“The Emperor”). Wanting a truly beautiful melody for the bassoon piece, I returned to this fragment as a kind of birthday genuflection to Beethoven.

Thus the conceit of the piece takes the form of Beethoven himself being subjected to a present-day audiology test. [The composer famously wrote about his diminishing hearing in the Heiligenstadt Testament (1802).] In his head, the blips and blurts of the test compete with a melody that strains to emerge, but never quite manages to do so, no matter how hard Beethoven pushes to the limits of the bassoon’s uppermost register.

I think of Herr Beethoven’s Audiologist as the audiologist’s report on imaginary tests of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hearing, conducted over two centuries ago.

3 August 2020*

*The first full day of the ‘state of disaster’ declared in Victoria


An excerpt from the draft score for Herr Beethoven’s Audiologist by Vincent Plush.






Vincent Plush

Vincent Plush (Image: Michael Pattinson)

Vincent Plush is widely known as a composer, ensemble leader, teacher, broadcaster, events and festival director and writer about music. Born in Adelaide in 1950, he has lived in most Australian capitals, notably Brisbane where, for over a decade, he directed the acclaimed Encounters series of festivals at the Queensland Conservatorium which explored intersections between Australian and Asian cultures. Vincent also lived and worked in fifteen cities in North America for nearly 20 years. More recently, he was based in Canberra, where he was Head of Research and National Public Programs at the National Film and Sound Archive for several years.

Many of Vincent’s 100+ compositions reflect his biding interests in history and cross-cultural forms, as found in his first orchestra piece Pacifica (1986), which has now had over 20 performances by some of the world’s leading orchestras. His third orchestral piece Secret Geometries was composed for the centenary of Canberra and premiered by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in March 2013.

In mid-1978, after completing his PhD at the University of Adelaide with a study of Music in the Life and Work of Patrick White, Vincent moved to Melbourne where he was recently appointed to a new position as Lecturer in Arts Journalism at the University of Melbourne.

Australian Music Centre: Vincent Plush


Kristen Sutcliffe, Bassoon

Kristen Sutcliffe

Kristen Sutcliffe graduated from the Australian National University with a BMus (Hons) and BSc then from the University of Melbourne with a Master of Clinical Audiology.

Kristen has played with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO), the Australian Youth Orchestra, the Australian National Academy of Music, Lyric Opera and the Australian Classical Players.

Kristen divides her time between her work as a specialist audiologist and musical work, including curating a program of concerts for people with hearing loss, Rediscovering Music, through the CSO.





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