When I was first analysing string quartets I fell in love with some of Bartok’s string quartets- in particular, the concept of the Allegretto pizzicato from his fourth string quartet. I adore the sound of pizzicato, and thought this was an interesting concept that I would be interested in exploring when I were to write a string quartet. When the opportunity finally appeared, I felt it had to feature a movement which was predominantly pizzicato.

Along came the third movement of the string quartet. It’s designed to be performed as quickly as the ensemble can cope with, and is based around the classic playground game Stuck in the Mud. After an initial mad chasing theme, a catcher finally manages to catch another quartet member. The “stuck” player must suspend an arco note until they are finally freed

The structure of the piece is determined by the game. The A section is the chasing theme, with the main melodic content being constructed primarily around rising and falling melodic minor and chromatic scales. Although constantly flowing lines throughout all four parts would have increased the sense of madness, I wanted to ensure melodic lines were balanced between the four parts to try and decrease finger fatigue – something string players had mentioned in the past when I’d discussed the idea of all pizz pieces with them. As a result, the main melodic content flows between different instruments on a regular basis, with pizz chords from the other quartet members punctuating the texture

Complex time signatures seem to be a current feature of my work, and this movement is no exception. The A section is quite unsetted, moving between 7/8, 11/8 and occasionally 3/ 4. In contrast, the B sections – where the catching occurs – are all in 7/8, as the catcher tries out tried and tested techniques to capture another instrumentalist. In the first instance they only manage to catch one of the other quartet movements, but their attempts are much more successful towards the end of the movement – to the extend where the ‘cello, in the role of the catcher, plays the final version of the theme as a solo, whilst the other three quartet members suspend their ‘stuck’ arco notes

Due to the likelihood of finger fatigue, the movement is fairly short – 77 bars, and around 1’30” in length (though potentially 2’ at a more standard speed!).Stuck in the Mud (a working title!) was completed in first draft in March 2014. The second movement of the quartet has also been completed more recently, and the fourth is currently in progress.


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