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Helen Grime

Publisher: Chester Music

Oboe Quartet (2011),
Composition of this piece was made possible by a grant from the Jebediah Foundation New Music Commissions.
Chester Music Ltd
Works for 2-6 Players
Year Composed
12 Minutes

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Programme Note
Helen Grime Oboe Quartet (2011),
Oboe Quartet is essentially an abstract piece. This is somewhat unusual in my out-put with many pieces taking extra-musical starting points. The stimulus for the piece sprang from my love of the oboe as well as an exploration of its relationship with the three string instruments. I studied the oboe alongside composition at the Royal College of Music in London, and although I rarely play anymore, I have retained a strong bond with the instrument.

The piece is cast in one continuous movement although it falls into a number of shorter sections. The oboe is the protagonist throughout with the string trio set against it in a unit, sometimes opposing, sometimes shadowing, commenting or expanding upon on the oboe’s line. The character of music moves between plaintive, virtuosic and fantastical to reflective and somewhat melancholy.

In the opening section, a gradually unfolding melody in the oboe is punctuated by gentle rocking figures in the trio. These two ideas interlock and overlap becoming more agitated and compressed before all instruments come together in a fantastical section. This leads to a faster energetic section with all instruments combining to produce an intense unison passage ending on repeated B flats on the oboe, the instrument’s lowest note. This in turn leads to an extended oboe cadenza, which is interrupted by faster, agitato figures in the string trio. These interruptions become gradually quieter and less forceful taking us into a very slow, calm final section featuring the high register of the oboe and delicate glissandi in the string writing.

© Helen Grime

Score sample

  • Ensemble
    The Berlin Oboe Quartet
    Costa Records:
...felicitously inventive...
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,21/08/2016
...wonderfully conceived and strikingly written...
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,21/07/2016
It's a remarkable 12-minute piece, running a gamut from exhilarating energy - the three strings volleying and dancing around a plaintive, long-lined oboe theme - to quietly evanescent soul-searching. It's a major addition to the oboe and chamber music repertoire.
Lloyd Schwartz, The Boston Phoenix,03/04/2012
The gymnastic pleasure of solo performance is indeed written into this score's concerto-like oboe part... But more rarely for a young composer, there is also a distinctive personal voice that comes through in the music itself, a brief but substantive exploration of the possibilities implied by placing the oboe soloist in dialogue with string trio. In the opening pages, fractured string figures lick up at the plaintive oboe lines like flames. The oboe tumbles, skitters, exalts, and seeks out the extreme highs and lows of its range, but virtuosity never feels like an end in itself. The piece's textures in fact grow lean and sinuous, and, after a striking cadenza, the oboe ultimately recedes and the strings close with a reflective section full of questing glissandi, a moment of silvery beauty.
Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe,27/03/2012
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