String quartet No. 1 : string quartet
by Paul Stanhope (2008)
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My String Quartet no.1 contemplates mortality, the fragile and
precious beauty of new life
and its transforming qualities. It was commissioned for Musica Viva Australia by Julia
Hickman Potter, in honour of Peter Hickman's sixtieth birthday.
The opening Sonata is built on a relatively large scale and, like traditional 'sonata form', uses
elements of conflicting thematic rhetoric. This arch-shaped movement begins with an
introduction of sighing, brooding elegiac figures. An argumentative first violin solo is pitted
against more understated music in the response of the other parts. The first violin acts as an agent
provocateur, driving the music headlong into a series of interlinked fast-tempo episodes. Thematic
elements introduced earlier are elaborated throughout the course of the movement. As the
movement progresses, various instrumental strands threaten to take their own course and at
the climax, this accord breaks down: each instrument becomes more assertive with machinelike
repetitive figures pitted in different time groupings against each other. These
argumentative elements gradually and reluctantly release echoes of the opening elegies in a
series of slowly descending harmonic spirals and a more resigned statement of the material
heard in the introduction. Written after the bruising Australian federal election campaign of
2007, this movement is possibly a reflection on the shortcomings of public life with all its
evidence of conflict, compromise and human frailty.
Having almost completed the first movement, a major life change occurred on 10th March
2008 with the birth of my son, Evan. Although I knew a baby was going to arrive, no-one can
quite judge the impact of the arrival of children until it actually happens! The composition of
the Lullaby flowed quite naturally as a little cradle-song for Evan. The lyrical violin solo is
written over a subtle series of shifting cell-like accompanying patterns and an evolving
ground bass. A longer canonic section leads in to a series of violin cadenzas containing a
veiled echo of material heard in the opening movement. Perhaps this movement is written as
much as a lullaby for adults who crave both sleep and the redemptive innocence of childhood.
The blues-inflected, celebratory finale transforms the lullaby figures into a joyous Dance. It
explores twisting motivic cells in a varied series of energetic tableaux. After some exploration
of darker moments, the material plunges headlong into a fast-tempo coda that brings this
exuberant movement to a helter-skelter finish.
Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello.
Duration: 22 min.
Contents note: In 3 movements: Sonata -- Lullaby -- Dance.
Commission note: Commissioned by Musica Viva Australia.. Commissioned by Musica Viva Australia by Julia Hickman Potter, in honour of Peter Hickman’s sixtieth birthday.
Revised in 2010.
Performances of this work
10 Mar 10: featuring Australian String Quartet.
27 Nov 08: Huntington Music Festival, NSW. Featuring Tinalley String Quartet.
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