It’s been a whirlwind few weeks (months!) here, hence the lack of updates. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve visited the Quangle Wangle Choir three times, and the score has just been sent off to the printers. In between I’ve finished a few other projects, including a suite of three piano pieces, one of which I may share at some point in the near future.
Today’s post is about a project I begun a few months ago – my first string quartet. As a piano and woodwind player, I’ve played instruments in all sections of the orchestra asides from the strings. I do own a violin, and I have dabbled, but admittedly I know very little. However, over the years I have written more and more for strings, and when the opportunity to write a string quartet arose, I leapt at the opportunity.
String Quartet – 1st movement – Hopscotch
I’ve been spending some time recently analysing the commonly recurring elements in my music. One constant throughout the last couple of years are the significant presence of major seconds in my work – often as major second clusters, though sometimes just as a repeated interval which plays an important part. I must admit that I’m a huge fan of the major second, and I doubt it’s something I need to remove from my work altogether. However, in the interest of experimentation, I wanted to conduct a bit of an experiment into consciously writing without them. The question was how to achieve it when they seem to play such a fundamental part in my current voice.
To achieve it, I decided to opt for a scale giving me no opportunity whatsoever to create major second intervals. The scale was formed from alternating minor thirds and major thirds:
The first movement of the string quartet offered the perfect opportunity to exercise this scale. I did accidentally deviate from it at moments of the piece (at a point where I’d not written down the scale and calculated its extremities wrong!), but at all times I stuck to the premise of ensuring there were no major second intervals.
As this was to be the first movement of the quartet, I wanted to stick to traditional sonata form. After a col legno battuto introduction (a technique I’m very fond of!), a fast, jumpy theme appears. The occasional bar with three or five beats adds to the unstable feeling. As an aside – although creating the melody line of the thematic material using the above scale was actually surprisingly easily, the accompaniment took more thinking through. The second theme is, as per tradition, slower and more reflective. This did pose more of a challenge, but the finished material creates a slow, beautiful contrast to the mad beginnings of the piece. One of my favourite moments of sonata form – be it writing or playing – is the development, and this is no exception. Using a very limited scale did make this more of a challenge, as well as the recapitulation (no way of modulating to the dominant key if it doesn’t exist in the scale!).
The name and themes for both this particular movement and the whole of the quartet emerged while this movement was being sketched. Playing around with a leaping melody, deliberately avoiding a plethora of notes felt akin to playing a game. As a result, this first movement is called Hopscotch (as the players hop between notes, never stepping), whilst the whole quartet is based around the theme of Childhood Games.
The third movement is complete, which I’ll post about in the next couple of weeks. The second and fourth are in various stages of drafts and sketches, but progress has been halted by another project – details soon.