• Michael Blake Watkins
  • String Quartet (1979)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by St Asaph Festival, Wales

  • String Quartet
  • 15 min

Programme Note

Michael Blake Watkins: String Quartet

My String Quartet is in one continuous movement which is divided into seven clearly defined sections. I wanted to highlight each instrument in solo as well as ensemble playing, and the sections are grouped so as to explore the quartet and concertante ideas alternately.

The fast opening is characterised by its aggressive harmonies and constantly recurring four-note motif. Its dramatic climax gives way to a cello solo which begins the second section, the accompanying trio entering mysteriously with distant harmonies. A strident chord introduces the next section, a stormy allegro. It is then the solo viola’s turn to lead to his concertante with a more lyrical theme played mostly in the upper register contrasted with the lower harmonies of the accompanying trio.

The next section opens with a gentle chorale-like theme which gives way to the second idea, a lively 5/8 passage. Violent chords culminating in a tone cluster precede a solo violin’s brief, yet impassioned cadenza. This leads to a slower section featuring the violins as soloists in turn. They finally emerge as a duo, which is interrupted by the work’s dramatic coda, a declamatory restatement of the opening theme, bringing the Quartet to its decisive conclusion.

This work was commissioned by the North Wales Music Festival 1979 with funds provided by the Welsh Arts Council.

© Michael Blake Watkins


This one-movement work is divided into seven contrasting sections, but is to be played without breaks. Much of the melodic line revolves around short three- to six-note motivic statements. The melodic shape of these motifs brings to mind the Bartok quartets. Harmonically, the work is atonal, though it is not a "row” composition. Strong dissonant vertical combinations of major and minor 2nds and 7ths and numerous tone-clusters add an edge to the music. Three long solo cadenzas for 1st violin, viola and cello, along with one for 1st and 2nd violin playing together adds to the continuity of the piece. This highly intense work shows a great deal of craftsmanship on the part of the composer

© The Instrumentalist, November 1982