• Lennox Berkeley
  • String Quartet No 3 (1970)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • String Quartet
  • 20 min

Programme Note

My third string quartet was commissioned for the Dartington String Quartet by Lord Chaplin and was first performed in Dartington in November 1970. The first three movements were written between January and April 1970 and the last during June and July.

The first movement begins, without any preamble, with a theme that in various guises reappears throughout the quartet. Some of the reappearances seem to happen more or less accidentally, or at all events subconsciously, as I did not set out to write a monothematic piece; nevertheless the sequence of notes with which I begin turns up at various times throughout the work, sometimes in a different order, but in such a way as to have a distinct affinity with the opening theme. This movement follows the classical pattern in having a second subject contrasting in character with the first. There is no recapitulation, but both themes are alluded to rather than restated, and the second leads to a coda that finishes the movement. There follows a ‘scherzo’, built on a phrase of six notes and its inversion. Here the music moves very fast; no new thematic material is added.

Shortly after finishing these two movements, I wrote a very simple unison setting of the hymn ‘Hail Holy Queen’, and feeling that I would like to enlarge upon its melodic line, I based the slow movement upon it. I only realised later that the beginning of the tune I wrote for the hymn is a descending sequence of notes not unlike the main theme of the Quartet. Later in the movement there is an ‘ostinato’ formed by the six notes used in the ‘scherzo’ above which a new melody appears.

The last movement bears the closest resemblance to the first in the actual notes used, but they are here given a quite different and much lighter character. About half-way through there is a pause and the main theme of the slow movement is repeated, differently harmonised. After no more than 22 bars it breaks off suddenly, the quick tempo returns and brings the work to an end.