score and parts in preparation
My Sixteenth Quartet was composed in the last months of 2021. Like my First, Third and Fourteenth Quartets, it is written in a single movement, although it is in three distinct sections. I knew from the start that it would be dedicated to the memory of my friend Hugh Wood, who had died in August 2021, and who was one of our finest composers. At the Presteigne Festival in late August I had heard for the first time Hugh’s last work, his string trio Ithaka, and had been very moved by it. I decided to incorporate a motive from the end of Ithaka, a rising and falling minor third; and minor thirds play a prominent part throughout the piece.
The quartet begins Andante con moto with a G minor viola theme that came to me as I looked out from a train at some clouds over the sea near Folkestone. The first violin extends the melody, ending with a little chorale which descends a minor third chromatically, then rises. A transition leads to a faster development, then a brief return to Andante before a complete change of mood and pace: an exuberant scherzo in A major with a trio in A minor. The return of the scherzo culminates in a few bars of the trio before the third section, Lento con molto espressione, some of whose material is derived from the opening Andante. At its centre is a passage of robin song (as far as I could notate it), the only bird singing at the time I was writing. An appassionato repeat of the opening of the Lento leads to a quiet return of the Andante and the quotation from Ithaka, then the quartet ends with the little chorale, here on high harmonics, before a final pizzicato G.