Douglas Gowan of Norfolk Concerts, commissioner of Seabourne String Quintet though he later tried to deny this.
Norfolk concerts who commissioned Seabourne String Quintet, and later tried to deny this.

String Quintet (2vln, vla, 2vc)

duration 23 minutes

1 Passacaglia Oscura ~ 2 Scherzo Serioso ~ 3 Lied ohne Worte ~ 4 Ritornelli

Written in response to a commission from *Douglas Gowan and Norfolk Concerts, this work takes a slightly sideways look at some familiar genres. In the intended première concert, Bach's famous Chaconne in d minor was to open but in an arrangement for solo violin and voices. I wanted to pay my respects to this Baroque form - however, my first movement uses not a repeated bass line but a series of "hidden" chords. These are never explicitly heard, but instead form a framework for melodic ideas. Each chord holds a special place in my compositional affections, almost my musical family. Further the series expands and contracts, re-orders itself, and even allows in "visitors". The resulting music is fluid and gently thoughtful.

The second movement is a vigorous, dark, "serious scherzo" (an oxymoron no doubt, but one with a long history). It is full of trills and snatched, short-breathed gestures though with little glimpses of other worlds where things are more agreeable.

The third movement is quite literally a Lied ohne Worte as it recomposes material from a song from my The Garden in the Brain cycle whose title is again a paradoxical notion, Good morning - Midnight (Emily Dickinson). (I did originally think of entitling this movement "Um Mitternacht" in homage to Mahler!). The music is heartfelt, somewhat "smeared" in its overlapping chromatic chords ...wax-like, Dali-esque watches and eyebrows etc..?!

The finale reworks an accompanimental figure from the scherzo (and other ideas), with initially a nervous, questing energy, but eventually building to conclude with great exultation.

It received a standing ovation at the Casalmaggiore Festival in 2012 played by members of the Mainzer Virtuosi.

*The work was formerly dedicated to Gowan, but this dedication is withdrawn. Having commissioned it on a gentleman's handshake, and trumpetting this in various newsletters (viewable online) he then tried to deny having done so and became most abusive. I will have more to say about this man in future years, and I suspect other mistreated "friends" will, likewise.

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