Commissioned by the Naxos Recording Company

  • string quartet
  • 21 min

Programme Note

1. Broken Reel
2. Slow Air and Rant
3. Passamezzo Farewell
4. Deil Stick da Minister
5. Hornpipe Unfinished

The big decision, upon facing the last of the quartets for Naxos Recordings, was whether this should be a grand finale or not. Although the former course was tempting – to make something even bigger than quartets nos. 6, 7 and 9 – I eventually decided to write a modest work, based on the Baroque suite, but with Scottish dances, rather than bourées and allemandes.

After finishing the work, I realised that the real reason for this was that I did not wish to draw a thick black line at the conclusion – that in no way must this be a last quartet. I needed to leave the door open: I had enjoyed writing the Naxos Quartets so much, and perhaps even learned a thing or two, that more could, in theory, eventually flourish.

Another temptation was to refer to each of the previous quartets in a solemn farewell sequence, as I had done in the last of the ten Strathclyde Concertos for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra: this was firmly resisted. Although the third movement is entitled Passamezzo Farewell, there is no nostalgia – but there are backward-reaching references.

The first movement is a Broken Reel – the outline of the dance form is there, but its rhythms are fractured, with the ghost of a “sonata” shape hovering behind the baroque surface.

The second, very brief movement is a Slow Air and Rant. The rant is based on a “real” Scottish tune – the irony is blatant.

The Passamezzo Farewell is a more extended movement – a meditation not only on the nature of the Renaissance Passamezzo, but on ultimate mezzi di passare.

Movement number four is again very brief – a sudden outburst, a summary of implications in the Passamezzo. The tune Deil Stick da Minister, composed anonymously when the Scottish Protestant Church was trying in vain to ban all dance music, is only quoted at the end.

The finale is a hornpipe, in the more recent, post-Purcellian sense. When it becomes clear how the movement might finish, the resolution is left to the listener’s imagination: the dance is simply stopped, with a suspended gesture. This is not a finale – the hornpipe could lead straight back to the opening of Naxos Quartet No.1, or into something as yet unwritten. There is no double bar-line.

© Peter Maxwell Davies 2007


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