• Anthony Payne
  • String Quartet (1978)

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

Programme Note

When, towards the end of 1976, I was asked to write a string quartet for the BBC's series of St John's lunchtime concerts, I was enabled to realise a project which had been at the back of my mind for some time. The basic idea for the quartet had come to me quite involuntarily some time previously, and had present itself in the form of a basic structure of interlocking sections in one continuous movement. At first, these sections outlined in vague terms three basic kinds of motion and texture; the exact nature of the actual materials in terms of pitch and rhythm only came into focus when I began work on the music in February 1978.

The three basic types of material can be characterised as moderato opening movement music, forceful and forward moving with vigorously attached pairs of notes on the rhythmic pattern long short; lyrical, static slow movement material typified by threads of melody, prominent octaves and atmospheric harmonics; and, finally, turbulent finale music with rushing counterpoint, big sforzando chords and snapped pizzicatos. Each brand of material reaches a peak where it is developed at length, and in between, like the foothills to three bigger mountains, there occur shorter sections of various lenghts recalling or anticipating the main sections. Altogether there are over fifty of these sections from the smallest which are only five beats in length up to the three main sections.

The interlocking mosaic is so arranged that as each main section becomes more imminent we hear its characteristic music more and more insistently, although it must also be said that our expectations are sometimes contradicted as well as fulfilled. To take one example: the finale material occurs throughout the work in bustling contrapuntal textures, until, that is, the main section arrives, when it bursts out in a sequence of solos, only later yielding the contrapuntal webb we have been led to expect.

The structure as a whole presents a continual ebbing and flowing in which there is no final clinching gesture as in traditional sonata form works. In fact by the time we have reached the last bar, we are in theory ready to start over again, as the structure has turned full circle. I have tried to suggest this circular motion my making the end a throw away gesture, avoiding any sense of fulfilment. A mysterious future is suggested where the work continues on its tight circle outside our hearing.

The Chilingirian String Quartet gave the first performance on Monday 4 December 1978 at St John's Smith Square. This was a BBC lunchtime concert.