Thursday, May 28, 2009

S.Q. Daily #14: Maxwell Davies Little Quartet No. 1

S.Q. Daily: A Composer's Listening Journal

Day #14: Peter Maxwell Davies
Little String Quartet No. 1

If you need something to grab your interest, click on the Youtube link at the end of this post. It's waaaaay out there.

Okay, so I'm cheating this time. Tonight's S.Q. Daily quartet is about 8 minutes long, because it's late and I'm tired.

The first movement makes great use of the homogeneous sound of the string family by making it sound like single notes emerge and split into two. This is accomplished mainly through "dovetailing," or bringing in a second instrument on the same pitch before diverging. Cool effect!

The second movement is a little faster - sort of odd for a quartet, but this is an odd quartet. Here we get some of those flashy violin I runs that everyone paid the big bucks to hear. Okay, maybe not flashy, but rapid at least. The cello is also featured.

Near the end of the movement (p.7, mm.52-57 if you're following along at home or on Classical Scores Library), the first violin has an incredibly sweet moment. A gorgeous, plantive melody is played on the G string (the lowest, darkest-sounding string). Especially when it wanders into the higher registers, this Webern-like single-string line takes on a splendid velvety timbre.

The viola finally gets its due in the third and final movement with a solo. Soon it begins accompanying the violin, a texture that is soon revisited but with a pizzicato viola. (In an eight-minute work, any repetition is significant.

A brief full-quartet pizzicato section may be paying homage to Ravel, among other famous composers of all-pizzicato inner movements.

You know, orchestration really works wonders. The final chord is not particularly pleasant out of context. But in this particular register, dynamic, and location in the work, Maxwell Davies' final chord (an 01346 set, if that means anything to you) is incredibly eerie, glassy, and beautiful.

I should listen to more Peter Maxwell Davies (and not just his Eight Songs for a Mad King -- Youtube). So should you. Wow.

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