Four Characters was commissioned by BBC Radio three for violist Lawrence Power, one of the station’s New Generation Artists. It was premiered with pianist Jonathan Biss at St Mary’s Abchurch, in the City of London, on 2 July 2003, as part of the City of London Festival. The work was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio Three.

  • va + pf
  • Viola
  • 12 min

Programme Note

Four Characters (2003)
for viola and piano

1. La Marquise de Merteuil
2. Madame de Volanges (and her daughter, Cécile)
3. Madame de Tourvel
4. Le Vicomte de Valmont

The opportunity to write for the wonderful violist, Lawrence Power - one of BBC Radio Three’s New Generation Artists - presented itself simultaneously with an invitation from choreographer Michael Corder and English National Ballet to collaborate on a new ballet based on Choderlos de Laclos’ novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Consequently, Four Characters presents a series of musical portraits of the main protagonists, conceived as a set of miniatures for viola and piano. The work was completed in March 2003.

The first movement introduces us to La Marquise de Merteuil , her music moving from a dark interior world to a grander public arena. A portrait of Madame de Volanges follows, as she chatters away with court gossip and fusses over the innocence of her daughter, Cécile. The third movement presents us with Madame de Tourvel - a lyrical study, framed by an evocation of her garden. Finally, in Le Vicomte de Valmont we meet Laclos’ voracious rake, whose musical bravado takes in references to some of his first victims.

Julian Philips, 2023