Written for benefit concert for Romania

  • String Quartet
  • 16 min
    • 31st July 2024, Opernhaus, Dortmund, Germany
    • 31st July 2024, Opernhaus, Dortmund, Germany
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Programme Note

In the summer of 1989 I composed a choral work, Out of the Ruins, for Agnieszka Piotrowska’s BBC2 documentary which dealt with the physical and emotional responses of some inhabitants of Leninakhan to the earthquake which devastated Armenia the previous December. When he heard the recording of the work that I made with the Holy Echmiadzin Chorus under the fervent conducting of Khoren Meykhanejian, Alex Balanescu suggested turning Out of the Ruins into a string quartet. There seemed no reason or opportunity to do this until I felt the need to add to the intensity of my experiences in Armenia the no less profound experience of witnessing the images of the Romanian revolution on television during the later part of December 1989.

Just as the sectional structure of my Third String Quartet may connect it with the First, so they also share a debt to Thurston Dart (my professor at King’s College, London, between 1961 and 1965). It was Dart who had the inspiration to send me to Romania in 1965, ostensibly to study folk music. The volumes of transcriptions that I brought back with me had remained unopened until, with this proposed ‘celebratory’ string quartet (though it is difficult to know quite what to celebrate in post-revolutionary Romania), an occasion arose where I could use this material in what seemed to me was a non-exploitative manner. The compositional procedure was as follows: to take Out of the Ruins as a template on which the Romanian vocal or instrumental music would be superimposed, quite often stretched into new intervallic shapes though the demands of the completely performed harmonic structure.

The quartets were written with amplification in mind, and it is my preference that they be performed as such.

© Michael Nyman

String Quartet No.3 was written for and first performed by the Balanescu Quartet at a benefit concert for Romania on 16th February 1990 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.


String Quartet No.3: beginning
String Quartet No.3: fig. D