• Elizabeth Maconchy
  • String Quartet No 12 (1979)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the University of Sheffield for their 150th Anniversary Celebrations

  • String Quartet
  • 13 min

Programme Note

This work was commissioned by the University of Sheffield to mark the centenary of Firth College with funds provided by the Art council of Great Britain. The first performance was given by the Lindsay String Quartet at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield on 21 October 1979.

In contrast to my two preceding String Quartets, which played without a break, No 12 is in four independent movements. The first, Allegro Moderato, is Vigorous, concentrated and brief, with an insistent dotted-note rhythm much of the way. The onward drive of the rhythm is however suspended once or twice for a reflective passage, characterised by two sustained chords: these chords are important and occur later in the work.

A short Scherzo follows, mainly pizzicato, in 5/8 time. The viola introduces a slightly slower and more introspective theme, to a background of harmonics, glissando, for cello. The movement grows from the alternation and development of these two ideas.

The slow movement is the most substantial. The expressive passage for viola with which it opens weaves its way through the movement in long lines, combining with other more dramatic ideas. There is a fleeting reference to the two sustained chords from the first movement.

The finale opens with a sort of challenge, loud and vigorous, just three bars long. Then comes the main theme, lively, with wide leaps, the first violin and viola in canon. This theme combines with further ideas, stemming from the opening bars. Twice in the course of this vigorous movement there is a brief pause for reflection, when the two chords from the first movement recur. Finally the ‘challenge’ is heard again and the pace quickens to end with a bang, not a whimper.

The texture, as in all my Quartets, is contrapuntal. I think of the four players rather like characters in a play- the drama being created by their reactions to each other, in question and answer or impassioned argument.

Elizabeth Maconchy, June 1979

View Score

Score sample