String quartet no. 1

for string quartet
16 mins.

First performed by the Sartori String Quartet at the Bromsgrove Festival in April 1972.

Programme notes

String quartet no. 1 was written during the summer of 1971, shortly after I left the Royal Academy of Music. It was first performed by the Sartori Quartet, led by Christopher Rowland, at the Bromsgrove Festival in the following April.

The piece is in one continuous movement lasting about sixteen minutes, and consists of twenty variations on the three quiet, widely spaced chords which are heard at the opening. These variations are closely linked, and begin to overlap towards the end – where, at the climax of the piece, the ensemble breaks up altogether, and the four instruments play independently for a while. From this point onwards the tension gradually unwinds, and the piece ends slowly and quietly with a high, ghostly chorale and a recapitulation of the three thematic chords.

Giles Swayne 2008