Commissioned by the Wissema Quartet, who gave the first performance during a BBC Young Composers’ Forum in Manchester on October 30th 1978.
String Quartet no. 2 was written in 1977. It was commissioned by the Wissema Quartet, who gave the first performance during a BBC Young Composers’ Forum in Manchester on October 30th 1978. It is in one continuous movement lasting slightly over twenty minutes, and is made up of five linked and overlapping sections which were intended as portraits of my son Orlando (three years old at the time), my three stepchildren Matthew, Miranda and Rebecca (fourteen, thirteen and ten respectively) and my first wife Camilla, who was then thirty-four. The tempi and durations of the sections are proportionally derived from this series of ages – so that each movement is slower and longer than the one preceding it. This gradual relaxation of tempo is accompanied by a corresponding increase in duration and complexity; in plain language, the piece is very fast and quite simple at the beginning (as befits a three-year-old boy), and gradually becomes slower, longer-breathed, and richer in detail. This creates a shift of emphasis from the extrovert opening to the introspective ending. There is a short breathing-space before the last movement, but otherwise the piece plays without a break. It is framed by a prologue and epilogue for solo cello which exactly mirror each other.
The piece is dedicated with gratitude and love to my cousin Elizabeth Maconchy, to whom I owe more than I can express for the help and encouragement she gave me when I was a callow youth with no idea how to put notes together. Her series of thirteen string quartets is one of the most remarkable achievements of twentieth century British music.
Giles Swayne 2008
“Giles Swayne’s Second Quartet, in five movements, framed by cello prologue and epilogue, is…full of technical and textural invention. I was particularly taken by the fourth movement, in which violent pizzicato, first for violin alone then cumulatively involving the whole quartet, alternate with smooth duetting for cello and viola…”
Hugo Cole – The Guardian