• John Joubert
  • String Quartet No.3 (1986)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by BBC

  • String Quartet
  • 29 min

Programme Note

John Joubert: String Quartet No. 3, Op.112

Allegro con fuoco
Molto lento, leading to
Allegro vivace

Composed during the summer of 1986 my third quartet is the second in order of composition of three works composed specially for performance this month as part of the celebrations connected with my sixtieth birthday. My original plan for the work was that it should consist of two movements, each consisting of three sections - the first in the order fast-slow-fast, and the second slow-fast-slow. This plan became extended to the point where the two movements became two separate works, the first of which is the quartet we are about to hear, and the second a piano trio, the third in the order of composition of the three 'birthday' works. The relationship of the movements of each work reflects my original plan; fast-slow-fast in the quartet, slow-fast-slow in the piano trio. The key scheme of the two works is also similar, the tonal centre of the middle movement being in each case a semitone higher than that of the two outer movements.

Marked 'Allegro con fuoco' the first movement of the quartet begins with vigorous two-part writing, the three upper instruments in unison unfolding a rising, stepwise line pulling against descending scalic passages on the cello. This distribution of parts is sometimes reversed. The more lyrical second subject is subsequently presented by the first violin with cello interjections, then repeated by the cello itself. A feature of the development is the presentation of the second subject material in the two-part texture previously associated with the first subject, with the three upper instruments in unison over a cello figure derived from first subject material.

The second movement is the emotional core of the work. It is a slow fugue on a subject first announced by the cello. After the exposition the violin introduces a new triplet figure which is subsequently combined with elements of the fugue subject forming a sort of middle section to the movement as a whole. The fugal exposition is now repeated with the triplet figure continuing as part of the texture. The parts enter in reverse order, culminating in the cello entry which brings the movement to its climax.

The slow movement moves straight into a cadenza-like liking passage designed as an introduction to the finale which follows without a break. Its main theme, a syncopated melody in the major over a pizzicato cello ostinato, almost parodies the fugue subject of the preceding movement in its succession of descending major sevenths. A broader second theme follows in a more relaxed tempo, after which the first melody returns, varied by means of triplet figuration. After a reappearance of the more lyrical second theme the movement appears to be subsiding to a peaceful conclusion when its tranquillity is brusquely interrupted by a vigorous unison passage which forcefully brings the work to a conclusion.

The quartet is dedicated to Howard Ferguson who was my composition teacher at the Royal Academy of Music from 1947 to 1950.
© John Joubert