In 1919 Bax returned to Ireland, probably for the first time since the War. His play, The Grey Swan
, and the second Piano Sonata were surely stimulated by that visit, and it is probable this Quintet was, too, evocative of revisiting familiar places and people Bax had known. The Quintet is in one movement, and of its two principal themes the first four notes of the first constitute a motif which recurs in the second. As in all Bax’s work with harp, the quality of the actual sound is important, and a climax early in the piece, molto vivace, for tremolando strings, for example, is orchestral in effect. In a later passage muted strings are contrasted softly with the tone colour of the harp, while occasional use of harp harmonics adds to Bax’s varied and colourful palette. Although written in 1919 this striking score was not first performed until February 1921, when the string quartet was the Philharmonic Quartet to whose violist, Raymond Jeremy, it is dedicated.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 1995