• Barry Guy
  • String Quartet No.3 (1973)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

This work won the Radcliffe Award in 1973

  • str4tet [amp]
  • Soprano
  • 24 min
  • Barry Guy
  • Wilfred Owen

Programme Note

In 1973 Barry Guy won first prize for the Radcliffe Music Award with his String Quartet No. 3. It takes its text from Wilfred Owen's poem Strange Meeting. Barry Guy was, at that time, preoccupied with what he calls the illogical business of war. Three short melodic statements characterise the three main significant movements in the poem; the entry into hell, the acknowledgement of being there, and the final succumbing. The composer has experimented with phonetics, relating certain vocal sounds to certain string textures. In this way he creates an air of confusion. The amplification also adds to the overall feeling of melancholy and despair.

Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand pains that visions face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped or down flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world.
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For of my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But through wounds; not on the cess of war
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were
I am the enemy you killed, my friend
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now…"

Wilfred Owen