• String Quartet
  • 3 min

Programme Note

This is - so far - the earliest composition by Davies to be available for performance, and mighty interesting it is. Written while he was still a young student, it provides a candid glimpse of the thing that concerned him: how music could be both forward-moving in the classical Western sense (this is, after all, a piece for a wholly conventional medium) and repetitive in the manner of the Indian and medieval music in which he was interested. What results is a singular machine geared to an intermittent ostinato in the first violin.

Quartet Movement (1952)

This concise work was written during the composer’s first year at Manchester University. In it, we can perceive three distinct influences, all particularly concerning rhythm, both as a structural force and as a prominent feature of the music’s surface.
First, we have the techniques of Indian classical music, one of the composer’s special studies at Manchester. These concern the re-cycling of a rhythmic or durational pattern over different time-spans, causing various musical strands to go out of phase with each other until a re-synchronisation eventually occurs as a natural result of the process continuing. These techniques, in their specifically Indian form, reappear in Hymnos, for clarinet and piano (1967). A secondary aspect concerns the discrepancy and reconciliation between a rhythmic and a melodic ‘set’.
Second, there are the isorhythmic techniques of Western medieval music, whose similarity to the Indian techniques becomes apparent once the connection is drawn. Isorhythmic (or isometric) construction has remained a feature of many subsequent Maxwell Davies works, occurring in particularly crucial form in Revelation And Fall (1966).
Finally, there is the world of the Bartok string quartets, expressed in the use of melodic cells, the rhythmic dislocation of these, the use of ostinati, and the work’s general sonority.
The Quartet is a fascinating example of the way in which areas whose relationship is not immediately obvious can be brought meaningfully together in the crucible of a young composer’s musical personality.

Stephen Pruslin


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