“When Stephen Robinson contacted me with a view to commissioning a work for oboe and piano I deemed myself to be a very lucky composer; I had heard his CD Bright Vessel in which several other Australian composers had their works displayed at their very best. Stephen did not stipulate or insist on any particular musical form for this work; he generously gave me permission to let my imagination take me wherever it led, but he did mention that he did not want the oboe type-cast only as eminently suited to music in a pastoral style. He hoped that I would explore other facets and characteristics of the instrument.
Accordingly, I searched for melodic material of a highly contrasted nature - lively, sober, calm, energetic, etc. Then, quite early on, a quote I had heard from Alexander Pope in his Essay on Man - ‘from grave to gay’ gave me both the title and focus for what I wanted to write - a piece which explores a wide variety of moods and allows the oboe to display how it can be grave, gay, dynamic, lyrical and even pastoral!
In the first movement oboe and piano echo each other’s statements until they lead each other into darker territory and a cadenza based on the opening descending scale which returns in up-beat mode in the final section. In the slow movement there are two centres of gravity - the first sober, somewhat forlorn, the second aspiring and lyrical; they alternate and there is an uneasy truce between the two, unresolved in the final bars. After a boisterous start in the final Allegro, piano and oboe insult each other, the piano rudely interrupting the oboe’s happy musings until a cadenza gives the latter the upper hand; an ‘anything you can do I can do better’ contest ensues until the oboe pronounces itself the winner. Kyle Horch, saxophone professor at the Royal College of Music, having heard a performance of the Sonata for oboe, suggested that it was eminently suited to the soprano saxophone and later performed it himself at a London concert. It was later included by one of his students at the college, Amy Green, for her final recital.” - John Carmichael