Michael Edwards

String Quartet 1990

Programme Note

This String Quartet was written early in 1990 as a requirement of my Master's degree courses at Bristol University. It is an important piece for me in that it is the first in which I made extensive and systematic use of microtonal intervals. But it is not so much the division of the semitone, but rather the division of the minor third into two equal parts that I am interested in here, although both result in the use of quarter tones as opposed to third or eighth tones etc.

A single-movement work lasting about eight minutes, the piece is divided into eight continuous sections, each demarcated by an increase in tempo. These occur smoothly (except for the first and last) by the use of metric modulation, and so the general tendency of the piece is to accelerate from eighth note = 48 to eighth note = 216, with a resultant dramatic increase in internal energy. Likewise, the dynamic schemes are mainly restricted to crescendi, so that the overall design of the piece could therefore be described as a type of 'wedge' form.

Though I am not a string player myself, the string quartet is one of my favourite media, both to listen to and to write for. In writing this piece I took particular note of Beethoven's technique as exhibited in the late quartets (especially the slow movements). He seems to be one of the first composers to be fond of spreading his melodic lines between the members of the quartet, rather than using the first violin almost exclusively as the main bearer of melody. Similarly, in composing my piece, I viewed the quartet as a whole as one instrument, sharing the often long-ranging melodic lines between the four players in a sometimes labyrinthine manner. I believe it is the necessary continuity of these lines and accompanying patterns that presents the biggest challenge to the performers, and also one of the greatest points of interest for listeners.