Adagio – Vigoroso – Andante – Vivo – Andante – Vivo – Lento – Moderato – Allegro - Lento
This Quartet was commissioned by the Delmé String Quartet, to whom it is dedicated, with the aid of funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and was first performed by the Quartet in the Wigmore Hall, London, on October 20th 1982 in one of a series of concerts celebrating both the ensemble’s 20th anniversary and the 250th anniversary of the birth of Haydn. It is in a single movement which takes as its main formal idea the typical Haydn “alternating variation” form. Whereas in Haydn’s variations the alternations are usually between two, often related, themes in minor and major modes (for example, the F minor variations for piano are based on two themes, the first in F minor and the second in F major), in this work the variations alternate between slow and fast tempi, and the first, slow section is already a variation on the theme heard in unison at the start and then gradually growing “out of phase” with each repetition. A more widely-spread contrasting idea (in itself a variation of the main theme) is heard and in its own right reappears several times during the course of the work.
The sections are as follows: (1) the opening Adagio, (2) a brusque and rhythmical Vigoroso, (3) an Andante in which a viola melody is surrounded by violin arabesques and cello pizzicati, (4) a brief, scherzo-like Vivo, (5) a more lyrical Andante marked by a dolce Violin tune, (6) another short, fast movement consisting of hectic unison phrases interrupted by sudden pauses, (7) a Lento in which a second violin theme is related to 3 above, (8) Moderato and then Allegro, a double variation gaining speed as it develops, and (9) a Lento epilogue, marked by a lamenting cello motif and a final, unison C sharp. It should be noted that in this work, which is played without a break, most of the variations are in effect short movements, with their own development of their varied material, rather than simply brief “variations on a theme”.
© 1998 John McCabe