Appleby engages her audience with a brief, simple opening statement that expresses a positive (and striking!) opinion about Kats-Chernin (Appleby, 2012). She maintains reader interest by describing Kats-Chernin’s ‘unruly curly hair and bright clothes‘ and her charismatic personality (Appleby, 2012). She then summarizes the events of the composer’s career, showing how her compositional style has changed. The six-paragraph biography deepened my understanding of Kats-Chernin, revealing a person who has remained optimistic despite suffering (Appleby, 2012).
Appleby briefly describes each of the works on the album, giving the date of composition and mentioning the work’s mood, style, or compositional techniques. The order of her descriptions differs from the order of the works in the recording; because of this, I found the liner notes somewhat difficult to follow (Appleby, 2012).
Sometimes—for instance, in her description of ‘Kwong Song’—Appleby provides information that her readers could have obtained from the recording itself (Appleby, 2012). However, she also apprises her readers of facts that are not apparent in the recording. For instance, she mentions the original instrumentation of Blue Silence and ‘Burnished Silver,’ and the inspiration behind ‘Fast Blue Village 2’ (Appleby, 2012).
Appleby contextualizes some of the repertoire by describing its purpose: ‘Drinking Song’ was composed for a German theatre work, and Blue Silence for an art exhibition dealing with schizophrenia (Appleby, 2012). Appleby also gives the reader some insights into how the works fit into Kats-Chernin’s career. ‘Naïve Waltz’ foreshadows the composer’s later style; in contrast, ‘Fast Blue Village 2’ (a later work) uses older techniques (Appleby, 2012). The quasi-minimalism of ‘Burnished Silver’ is ‘typical,’ while Blue Silence ‘has a stillness and sadness unique among Elena’s works’ (Appleby, 2012).
After reading Appleby’s liner notes, I wondered why Kats-Chernin had chosen to write two works relating to schizophrenia. After more research, I found that she had also composed the soundtrack for a documentary on schizophrenia (Documentary Australia Foundation, accessed 2017), as well as a work for the Mental Health Institute in Melbourne: a vocalise that ‘translates into conflicting, disturbing inner voices’ (Silsbury, 2016).
I also found that Kats-Chernin’s son Alex had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at age fourteen (Kats-Chernin, 2014). His diagnosis impacted on Kats-Chernin’s compositional style: instead of writing experimental music that would please critics, she wrote music portraying the peace she wished Alex could experience (Kats-Chernin, 2014). She chose the colour blue for the title of Blue Silence because it suggested the sky and healing. It was also Alex’s favourite colour (Kats-Chernin, 2014).
—Appleby, Rosalind. Liner notes. Blue Silence: Complete Works for String Quartet by Elena Kats-Chernin. Lisa Stewart (violin), Myee Clohessy (violin), Stefan Dawe (viola), Anna Martin-Scrase (cello). Naxos 840-1202. 2012, compact disc. Accessed online April 26, 2017. https://anu-naxosmusiclibrary-com.virtual.anu.edu.au/sharedfiles/booklets/VEX/booklet-840-1202.pdf.
—Kats-Chernin, Elena. ‘Stories of Silence: Blue Silence.’ Interview by Natalie Kestecher. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Published 2014. Accessed April 26, 2017. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/features/silence/blue/.
—‘Mad.’ Documentary Australia Foundation. Accessed April 26, 2017. https://www.documentaryaustralia.com.au/films/3965/mad.
—Silsbury, Elizabeth. ‘Butterflying: Piano Music by Elena Kats-Chernin.’ Loudmouth: Music Trust E-zine. July 6, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017. http://musictrust.com.au/loudmouth/butterflying-piano-music-by-elena-kats-chernin/#prettyPhoto.
Photograph by Lauren Giddy.