Splitting The Ambivalence


Mezzo-Soprano + String Quartet
Duration: 22 minutes
This work was composed for Ashlyn Timms and The Flinders Quartet with generous assistance from Kim Williams AM.

Text: The words of Margaret Sutherland, compiled by Katy Abbott.

Splitting the Ambivalence in psychology terms is about polarising positions between two separate entities (such as a couple, two countries for example) so that any question between them becomes an either/or scenario. This or That. There is no middle ground.

When reading the words of Margaret Sutherland and noticing how she is often referred as feisty, strong-willed, a get-things-done kind of woman – I wondered about her other side – the side that isn’t so visible to the public and the public perception of Margaret versus what might be the ‘real’ Margaret.

Her writing, her letters, her music and the stories that accompany her life, paint an image of a woman unafraid to rattle the establishment, described often as “incensed” and “indignant” we are left with a sense of a woman who (somewhat admirably) took on the world and all of its irritations with great insouciance. Entitled, opinionated and sedulous in putting angry pen to paper, criticising where – in her less than humble opinion – critique was long overdue!

But of more interest to me was the split – the underlying gentleness, the wistfulness, the delicacy, romanticism almost that also appears in her work and reflections. The image staring back in the mirror, the white against the black; ambivalence.

It was tempting to only choose text which would portray her wonderful stubbornness and her forthright ideas, or stories that would delve into relationship dramas with colleagues and the ABC!

Certainly, she cannot be genuinely captured without that insight but the gentle reminiscing and the soft-focus descriptions, in particular in her life as a child, offers completeness. I wonder at the moments when Margaret Sutherland superbly ‘belonged to herself’ and how that made the woman and the composer.

© Katy Abbott / Maureen Johnson. 2022

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The Australian Music Centre

hidden thoughts

Hidden Thoughts III: Stories of Awe


Narrator + Voices + Orchestra
Duration: 45 minutes


Text: Katy Abbott with Maureen Johnson.

Please contribute a story for this work by completing this short questionnaire:

Premiere August 9 + 10, 2024 Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

> See this page for more details

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Score will be published on this site in September 2024. Please contact me if you would like details.


Hidden Thoughts II: Return to Sender


Mezzo-sop + Narrator + String Quartet
Duration: 60 minutes



Text: Katy Abbott with Maureen Johnson.

From the unopened, returned letters of encouragement from Australians to asylum seekers on Nauru Island.

Composed with support of a Australia Council for the Arts Fellowship (Music).

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Available on this site

‘Woolongong’ from Hidden Thoughts II: Return To Sender

The Domestic Sublime


Soprano + Piano
Duration: 25 minutes
Text: Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Six Songs from The Domestic Sublime by Chris Wallace-Crabbe.

Winner of the ‘Gold Medal’ for Art Song: Boston Metro Opera (2013).

Finalist in APRA AMC Art Music Awards: Work of The Year: Song Cycle(2013).


Appears on The Domestic Sublime: The Vocal Music of Katy Abbott (ABC Classics)

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The Australian Music Centre

No Ordinary Traveller


Song Cycle for mezzo-soprano + Mixed Trio
Duration: 25 minutes
Text: Jacki Holland.

Commissioned by Halcyon and Arts Victoria.

Sunburnt Aftertones

Appears on Sunburnt Aftertones: The Chamber Music of Katy Abbott.

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The Australian Music Centre

It Is Just The Heart


Song Cycle for Soprano + String Quartet
Duration: 25 minutes
Supported by Australia Council for the Arts Music Board / Halcyon Ensemble.

Text: Various + Katy Abbott.

It Is Just The Heart is a song-cycle in four Movements where each movement is inspired by the composer’s experience at four different Melbourne Institutions:

I: The Immigration Museum (‘Hinta Palinta’)

II: The Melbourne Museum (‘Dinosaur’)

III: The Cunningham Dax Collection (‘It Is Just The Heart’)

IV: The Melbourne Planetarium (‘Night Thoughts’)

“I wanted to capture the ‘human’ element of each collection. Buildings and museums hold ‘things’; evidence of human interaction, innovation and feeling. I like to think of these places as a depiction / portrayal of our humanity. I have chosen the title to represent an emotional and human aspect of each institution.”
Katy Abbott.

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The Australian Music Centre

‘Handsome’ from Words of Wisdom


Vocal miniature for solo male voice
Duration: 1:30 minutes

Text: Olivier Martinez: Voted Who Magazine’s Most Handsome person (2004)

“It is not a problem if people think I’m handsome. It is a quality.
It is nothing I have any control over. What else can I say?
I thank my Mum.”
Olivier Martinez

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Available on this site