Movement 1: Andante sostenuto – Allegro vivo
Movement 2: Allegretto con slancio
Movement 3: Andante calmo
Movement 4: Molto vivace
I’m to be presented with a gold medal at the Library of Congress in Washington in October, by Mrs Sprague Coolidge (the rich patroness of music, friend of Frank Bridge) for services to chamber music! Gettin’ quite distinguished arn’t I? But it doesn’t mean any money, unless I sell the medal, which wouldn’t be quite quite. Still the old girl has just bought a String Quartet off me for quite a sum, which will keep the wolf away for a bit, so I can’t complain.
More seriously, however, Britten told his benefactress that he rated the quartet as ‘my best piece so far’, and the Times critic wrote after its first English performance by the Griller Quartet in April 1943: ‘It looks as though he has begun to advance from his easy accomplishment into some new phase of development in his thought which will be watched with interest.’ The reviewer went on to describe the musical idiom as ‘unconventional’ and ‘experimental’ with its ‘harshly contrasted elements’, referring to the juxtapositions of passages in slow and quick tempos in the first movement inspired by Beethoven’s B flat major Quartet, Op 130. The ethereal diatonic opening to the work suggests the strong influence of neoclassical Stravinsky, as distinctively modified by the music of Copland, by whom Britten was befriended at the time of composition.
from notes by Mervyn Cooke © 2013