String Quartet No. 1 (1962)
I. Introduzione: attacca
II. Scherzo and Trio
This quartet was my first commission from the BBC: it was for the 1962 Cheltenham Festival. I wrote it, in the intervals of teaching harmony at the RAM, between February and June 1962. It was first performed in Cheltenham Town Hall on 5 July 1962, by the ensemble to whom it is dedicated, the Dartington String Quartet, now sadly disbanded. Since then, the quartet has been performed many times by the Dartington and other quartets both in England and on the continent, although it has not now been heard for some years. In the 1960s it was recorded by the Aeolian Quartet, and again, in 1973, by the Dartington Quartet: both recordings by Argo Records.
The four movements follow the usual four-movement pattern, although the main weight has been removed from the first movement – which has more the character of an Introduction – to the Finale, which is the most extended movement. The slow movement I placed third, as often in classical practice.
The Introduction displays themes, which will be heard in various forms throughout the work. After a series of duets between pairs of instruments it gathers to a climax (this will be heard again in the Finale). Then a long-held note leads, without a break, into the muted, fugitive Scherzo. In the central Trio figures from the Introduction are particularly prominent: there is then a varied repeat of the Scherzo. The Adagietto is a miniature slow movement of 34 bars. The opening four-phrase statement comes back three times, with more flowing and florid lyrical material in between, the second time superimposed upon it to form a climax before a quiet open-ended conclusion.
The first three movements lead up to a longer and more elaborate Finale. A spectral introduction, ending in a version of the first movement’s climax, leads to a vigorous first section, at first in unisons, in the manner of a ‘first subject’. But the form is ternary rather than sonata. The middle section is contrapuntal, the other instruments joining an initial duet between the violins. The lead-back to the Return quotes from the Scherzo and the Introduction, and the music ends firmly.