• Kenneth Leighton
  • Piano Quintet (1959)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the BBC

  • String Quartet
  • Piano
  • 29 min

Programme Note

Kenneth Leighton: Quintet for Pianoforte and Strings, Op. 34

Allegro con moto
Adagio sostenuto
Scherzo - Prestissimo
Passacaglia - Adagio - Presto

This work was written during 1958 and 1959, in response to a BBC commission for the 1959 Cheltenham Festival, and was first performed by the London String Quartet with the composer at the piano.

The texture is mainly contrapuntal, and when the treatment is not antiphonal, the piano is often given a single line within the string texture.

The first movement is modest in dimensions and its material (particularly the motto C D E flat D flat) is not fully worked out until the finale. The mood is one of restlessness (opening theme on unison strings) and the agitation grows through a transition passage, leading to a secondary idea marked 'più dolce e grazioso'. The middle section consists of a single extended paragraph in which counterpoint of rhythm adds to the feeling of development. An extended coda in moderate tempo returns to the restraint of the opening, using almost entirely the descending sequential figure of the second subject.

The slow movement is lyrical and elegiac. Solo 'cello announces the theme, and there is a contrapuntal middle section punctuated by a rhythmic figure (on the piano) which grows in dimensions as the movement proceeds.

The Scherzo is exuberant and rhythmic, with a Cantabile second theme heard first on the piano. In the middle section pizzicato strings accompany the rapid figuration on the piano and then vice versa. The Cantabile theme returns in triumph at the end.

The Passacaglia returns to the motive of the first movement, which is presented first in a series of entries on strings. Five variations follow, though the effect is one of a continuous paragraph, gaining in speed and tension all the time. The piano leads off in a final fugue and eventually against the fugal figuration (and in a different tempo) the piano introduces a slower tune, this time a majorish version of the motto. The chord of C major makes clear the basic tonality of the whole work.

© Kenneth Leighton


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