Revisiting old work is something every professional does at various points in their career. In this case, I was asked to reinvent the clarinet sonata – completed for my Creative Pact last September – for clarinet and string quartet (see the previous link for full details about how it came into being). In this series of three blog posts, I’ll be sharing snippets of the process with you, along with some audio. As part of the transformation process I have renamed the suite of three pieces to Scenes from a Train.

Please note that I am only sharing excerpts of the piece rather than its entirety as there is a live performance in mind. The posted recording was rendered in Sibelius.

For me, this wasn’t just a process of simply exploding a piano part into a string quartet – after all, I could have asked Sibelius to do that on its own. This was about capturing the essence of the piece with the strings, and ensuring they adequately captured the required moods, scenes and emotions. Another important element was to try and ‘translate’ it best for the quartet, whilst not changing the initial aura of the piece. As with all music, I believe it captures a moment in your musical life, and I wanted to try and tamper with that as little as possible. Of course, the resulting piece now could be said to reflect both now and the time it was written, but I wanted more of the latter and less of the former to be evident.

Scenes from a Train

The suite is based around three different areas on the train journey: the city, the residential areas, and the countryside. Here’s a mini snapshot collage of some of the views from the train itself.


Andantino con moto

I explained my thinking behind the first movement in a blog post last September, entitled The seeds of the first movement. In a nutshell, it is based around sonata form, with a few differences (for example, in the recapitulation, the second theme is heard in the tonic, but with the accompanying harmonies remaining in the dominant!). I found this quite easy to rearrange with regard to the string quartet. The piano part featured a moving bass line, which works well on the viola and cello, alongside some accented chords. These had to be rejigged for strings to make them sound heavier and more jagged.

The second theme revolves around the beauty of the London architecture. The way the old and new blend to create one city fascinates me, and became the inspiration for this material. Rearranging it, however, became more of a challenge as the major second clusters wouldn’t have always been as appropriate on the strings, so needed re-voicing. The result is more beautiful and subtle than the piano part was, and one that I think is more fit for purpose!

The colours of the individual instruments really enhance this movement. The ability to thin the texture out is also very effective, which I exploited particularly in the development section. I also found the perfect place for some pizzicato – one of my favourite string things (in fact, the string quartet I have in mind features a movement which is almost soley pizz, a la Bartok!).

The excerpts below (Sibelius rendered, apologies) are, in order:
1) First theme leading into second theme (exposition)
2) Snippet from the development


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