In promoting the viola, Tertis gave lecture recitals in which he featured his pupils. In addition to commissioning solo works he also favoured ensembles of violas, his most celebrated commission in this respect being the viola sextet Introduction and Andante
, Op 5, by Bowen’s friend Benjamin Dale which dates from 1911. By then Tertis had already asked Bowen to write a viola quartet movement, and the Fantasia for four violas
Op 41 No 1 was composed in 1907 and first performed by Tertis and his pupils on 3 March 1908 at a musical evening promoted by the Society of British Composers. Perhaps of most significance to us now is the fact that the second viola part in both the Dale and Bowen pieces in those early performances was played by Eric Coates, later, of course, celebrated as a composer of light music. They played the Bowen again at the RAM on 25 May 1908.
Bowen wrote several works called ‘Phantasy’ or ‘Fantasie’, taking his cue from the Phantasy competitions of William Walter Cobbett which started in 1905, and for which Bowen wrote his Phantasy Trio for violin, viola and piano. In the Fantasia for four violas we find a typical arch-structure which subsumes the elements of three or four movements into one. This is remarkable for the range of textures and expressive power that Bowen obtains from his quartet, from the wistful opening to the driving energy of the fast music. But the overall character is elegiac, the mood underlined by the extended half-lit closing section.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2008