String Quartet No.5


string quartet
String Quartet
Commissioned by North West Arts
First Performance
23.10.84, Sheffield University: Brodsky String Quartet

A4 facsimile score 0-571-55513-6 (fp) and parts 0-571-55514-4 on sale

Programme Notes

String Quartet no.5, op.36 Lento, cantando - Vivace, energico - Largo sostenuto

The first idea for my Fifth Quartet came to me during a walk on a very clear day in the early spring of 1984. I imagined successive entries of the four instruments, all high in their register. This happens, as you will hear, at the opening of the Quartet. Composition did not get under way, however, until June, shortly after a holiday on the Greek Island of Santorini. Again the clarity of the light there, and also the starkness of the landscape and the powerful sense of the past - I used to walk most mornings up to a ruined temple on top of a mountainous cliff - all made a strong impression on me and all may have found their way into the piece. In structuring the Quartet, I introduced two consciously Greek elements: the first movement's form is based on the Pindaric ode - a strophe followed by an identical antistrophe, then an epode of different structure; and I have also made use of the principle of the Golden Section - where the proportion of a smaller part to a larger is the same as that of the larger to the whole - which was frequently employed in classical architecture. The music plays continuously, but there are three distinct movements. The first is slow, and alternates passages of flowing counterpoint (the strophes) with chorale-like sections (the epodes). The second is fast: it has three independent sections which increase in speed. The third is another slow movement in which a melody, related to the music of the first movement, gradually grows out of fragments. The end returns to the music of the opening of the Quartet, but presented now as if in strongest sunlight; the Quartet might be thought of as progressing, like a famous precedent, from dawn to midday. The work was commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of the National Federation of Music Societies, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and first performed by the Brodsky Quartet.

© David Matthews

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News & Reviews

'String Quartet No 5' review

'…lyrical and expansive, luminously scored with instruments rarely in conflict at the same pitched level. There is little close imitative writing, instruments are allowed many opportunities to lead the ensemble in long and expressive themes' The Guardian (Hugo Cole), 28 February 1987 Read more

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