snapshot of score of String Quartet no.1

String Quartet no.1 (1973)

Departures & Repercussions

During my final year at King’s college, London I became very disillusioned with academia and came close to dropping out of the course. Fortunately my then wife Ruth prevailed and made sure I stuck it out, took the finals and got the degree. However, to give myself a breather I took a bit of time off to write this piece and the first version of Sleep.

The rather pretentious sounding subtitle does have a bearing on the music, which alternates between the two concepts. The five Departure sections are based on two concurrent 12-note rows, use free notation and get progressively freer through the piece, until it dissolves in random harmonic glissandi. The Repercussions require a little more explanation. The year before I had written a piano piece called Repercussion, which stemmed from an exercise given to us by our lecturer Ian Bent, who asked us to notate a passage from an improvised jazz drum solo. I enjoyed doing this and took the idea much further by notating an entire extended solo by Buddy Rich, then — more or less — putting notes to the rhythms, while allowing myself complete freedom with regard to tempo (some of it was at something like a quarter of the tempo of the original). For my String Quartet, I did a similar thing with four shorter solos by Art Blakey, on Thelonious Monk recordings from the 1950s, the serial treatment of which gets stricter as the piece progresses.

I submitted the score to the Society for the Promotion of New Music, who accepted it and gave it to the Gaudeamus Quartet to perform on a UK tour. The first ever professional performance of any of my music was therefore in Sunderland, followed by Birmingham and finally the Purcell Room, London, which I attended (as did my parents; my mother thought it was ‘very interesting, dear’). A BBC producer was also there and offered to include the piece in the Radio 3 programme Music in Our Time, played by the very young Arditti Quartet.

I somewhat optimistically called this ‘no.1’, but so far there’s been no No.2, in spite of several attempts...

Score extract (PDF)


Performances / broadcasts / recordings

Listen to extract (1:31)