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John McCabe

Publisher: Novello & Co

String Quartet No 7 (Summer Eves) (2012)
Commissioned by the Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts Limited, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Wales, for premiere in August 2012 by the Carducci String Quartet in St. Andrew’s Church, Presteigne.
Novello & Co Ltd
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
String Quartet
Year Composed
21 Minutes

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Programme Note
John McCabe String Quartet No 7 (Summer Eves) (2012)
Some years ago I noted down the opening theme of what I anticipated would be a relatively Classical string quartet – “Classical” in the sense of the forms adopted, plus perhaps a predominantly lyrical tone of voice. The commission for this work, from the Presteigne International Festival of Music and the Arts for their 30th anniversary Festival in 2012, gave me the opportunity of putting into practice this long-held idea. It is dedicated to the Festival and to the Carducci Quartet, whose career, as much-admired friends and colleagues, I have greatly enjoyed.

The only break with “classical” tradition is that there are five movements instead of four, with two Scherzi as the second and third, though both these are very short and contrasting. I found myself listening to Haydn’s string quartets a lot before and during the composition of this work, and I hope the spirit of his delight in writing for this medium is echoed in my own music. The opening movement is in sonata form, unusually for me, and lyricism is, I hope, the basis of it, though there is a good deal of activity at times. The Scherzo, light and marked by frequently-changing rhythms, is followed by an equally short but ferocious Perpetuum mobile, marked Wild und rasch (one of my favourite German tempo markings). The fourth movement is an intense Adagio, in which a single phrase uttered strongly in unison is gradually transformed into gentle diatonic chords before the close, intermingled with cadenzas for cello, for viola, and for the two violins together. The finale (a Rondo) resumes the classical tone of the first movement, but apart from one dance-like episode it builds up a fair head of steam towards a final Presto, which however ascends, slows and quietens, towards a gentle summer sky at dusk.

The score is headed by a quotation from Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale;
“The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves”

Programme Note © Copyright 2012 by John McCabe

Score sample

  • Ensemble
    Carducci String Quartet
    Signum Classics:
The quartet’s subtitle, taken from Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale, is ‘Summer eves’, and the languorous good humour associated with that time of year was caught in the relaxed and genial radiance of the opening sonata-form Allegro sanguino. A delicate and nervously darting scherzo was followed by an unbuttoned second scherzo in the form of a perpetuum mobile, which tore through its compact material with abandon. At the heart of the piece was a weighty and impassioned extended Adagio in which a single unison phrase transmuted into hushed chords, juxtaposed with cadenzas for cello, for viola and for the two violins together. This substantial utterance plunged the listener into darker, more unsettling regions. Here, perhaps, was a touch of what Elgar once described, in the context of the first movement of his Second Symphony, as ‘a sort of malign influence wandering through the summer night in the garden’. In the rondo finale, something of the opening movement’s more relaxed tone was resumed. After a strongly rhythmical passage, the material gathered momentum, culminating in a tiny closing Presto that evaporated into a final glimpse of a calm summer sky at dusk. This demanding score packed in a wealth of incident into 25 minutes and, in an admirably committed account, the Carduccis were able to suggest convincingly an overall cohesion to its various strongly contrasted elements. It is a mark of McCabe’s continuing ability to surprise and intrigue that in this, his most outwardly genial and ‘classical’ quartet, he should have buried a number of subversive elements. As a consequence, the piece was, in effect, more ambiguous and complex than the radiant, picturesque mood-painting its subtitle implies.
Paul Conway, Tempo,01/01/2013
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