String Quartet no. 3: Reed Stanzas

Composition Date: 2013
Duration: 24'
Instrumentation: String Quartet

Information:

 

Reed Stanzas was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and first performed on July 25th, 2011 in Cadogan Hall, London, by the Elias String Quartet, as part of the BBC Proms Chamber Music Series.

 

Programme Note:

 

REED STANZAS

String Quartet no. 3

 

for the Elias Quartet

 

Donald Grant, the second violinist in the Elias, is well known as a traditional Scottish fiddle player.  I have incorporated this skill into a quartet work, drawing on Donald's Gaelic roots. The 'second violin range' of a quartet is similar to that used by traditional fiddle, inhabiting the throaty, rich soundworld of the lower strings, and the distinctive clarity of the upper strings in their lower positions. This leaves the first violin to explore the heights of the E string, so that the two violins are almost like different instruments.

 

I wrote part of the quartet in a cottage overlooking the machar of the Isle of Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, listening to Britten’s quartets in between working. These works always remind me of my former life as a viola player, and the wind blowing through the reed beds at Snape; a very different, but equally windswept, salt-scented wilderness.

 

The reed has many different associations. ‘The Reed of God’: a Christian metaphor for Mary: the channel through which the spirit is breathed. The ‘accursed’ reed of Celtic belief: the reed through which Jesus was given vinegar to drink, on the cross. And the reeds used in the making of wind instruments, including the bagpipe and accordion. The Sufi poet Rumi describes the reed flute as a symbol of longing and separation: the reed, separated from its home, utters a heart-breaking lament.

 

Reed Stanzas takes the form of variations on a Celtic-inspired theme announced by the second violin, which opens and closes the work in the manner of Pibroch (the classical music of the Highland bagpipe). I have explored the intricate ornamentation used in Pibroch, highlighting its similarities to birdsong, and to Arabic reed flute (ney) playing. The piece also refers to the multiple reeds of the accordion (these days made of metal) – an instrument used in traditional music of many cultures. The idea of the loneliness and vastness of landscape underpins the quartet, while each variation, or ‘stanza’, has its own metre and mood.

 

Reed Stanzas was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and first performed on July 25th, 2011 in Cadogan Hall, London, by the Elias String Quartet, as part of the BBC Proms Chamber Music Series.

 

Sally Beamish 2011

 

Buy/Hire from Norsk Musikforlag

Available Recordings:

 

Listen to excerpt on bbc.co.uk...

 

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