When I was approached to write a piece for the Edinburgh Quartet I was delighted- I had wanted to write a string quartet for quite some time and was waiting for the right time and opportunity to do so. The string quartet has one of the richest repertoire and history behind it, so for me, one of the main challenges was letting go of all those associations and approaching it like I would for any other combination. I am not a string player, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Although I’m constantly thinking of the technical challenges and making the music playable, not actually being able to play can be freeing, leading you to take musical risks that you might not take otherwise. I came to the string quartet after writing a lot of chamber music for strings, including two piano trios (a combination which I found equally daunting) and a string sextet.
This is the first piece I have completed since having my son, Samuel, last August. This has been an emotionally rich and creative time for me and although I started the piece (about a minute or so) when pregnant, most has been written this year. I’m unsure if this has affected the piece or not, but interestingly the form of the piece (which was quite carefully planned beforehand) underwent quite a huge change when I began composing again.
The piece is in three movements, but they all run together without a break, the material of the new movement overlapping with the end of the previous one. My music tends to be very organic generally and this is very much true of the quartet. The speeds of each movement are very closely related to create seamless links between ideas and there are also very strong links between the musical material in each movement. To some extent, I imagined the piece in one long movement and I think this will come over to the listener.
The first movement opens with a fast duo for violin II and viola- different pairings are a feature of the piece in general-and ends with a duo for violin I and cello. The second movement is by far the longest of the three and the third movement is a sort of moto perpetuo, featuring virtuoso writing for each instrument.