Duration c. 25’
Dedication: The Lyric Quartet
First Performance: The Lyric Quartet, The Pump Room, Cheltenham July 15th 1998
Apart from the 10 5-minute string quartets that I wrote in 1992 as the original version of A Man in a Room, Gambling, where they accompany Juan Muñoz’s speaking voice and are therefore not ‘pure’ quartets, there are 8 years between my second and third quartets (there were only 4 years between the first and second). The third quartet alludes to a number of approaches to chamber music that I have touched on in those intervening years.
Among these is the section at the end of my Cello Concerto where the solo cello is accompanied only by 3 solo instruments (2 violins and a viola) as a reference to the concerto’s connection with the music of Haydn, the ‘father’ of the string quartet. Although, in an academic sense, this reference may appear classical, in the concerto its musical effect is elegiac and even austere coming as it does at the end of long orchestral work. Shortly before the closing section of this quartet, therefore, I use an equivalent sequence of suspensions and resolutions but this time using only two instruments and, unlike in the concerto, the accompanying instruments – and the solo lines – do not remain the same throughout the passage.
Another element which finds its way into the quartet comes from my work with groups from the world of early music, particularly from the experience of writing for a consort of viols, a precursor of the string quartet, and for homogeneous vocal ensembles (the brief allusion to Gesualdo in this piece stems from the “apt for voices or viols” principle which found its way into the world of the madrigal). In several places I ask for little or no vibrato from the strings, occasionally preferring open strings and natural harmonics to stopped notes. In addition there are sections where I concentrate on the purer intervals. This self-imposed constraint is present throughout the work – in one section I only use major harmonies and in another only minor, for example.
Although I use the term ‘section’ in these notes, in fact the piece is in one continuous movement, played without a break.
I have known the members of the Lyric Quartet for a number of years both personally and professionally and I admire their work both as a quartet and as individual players. My third string quartet is dedicated to the Lyric Quartet and was commissioned by them with funds made available by South West Arts.