String Quartet No 7 was written in 1977 at the request of Lady Jeans (Susi Jeans, the organist), and it is dedicated to her. The work was completed quickly and was first played by the Gabrieli String Quartet at a concert in Lady Jeans’ home, Cleveland Lodge, Dorking, during a concert celebrating the centenary of her husband. The composer, himself a keen astronomer and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, draws parallels between the music of this work and aspects of the universe—quiet and mysterious and yet pulsating with energy. There is only one movement, which falls into three distinct sections, slow–fast–slow. At the beginning of the work the first violin introduces a stationary line on the note D which is crossed by an upward moving one: from this material all the remainder of the piece grows quite logically. At first the vastnesses of space are invoked: progress is occasionally held in check by the sustained bottom note of the cello—a readily identifiable and memorable sound of which Robert Simpson is very fond. Indeed, the various open strings of all four instruments, tuned in fifths, play an important role in the quartet and provide a force which one might compare to gravitation, controlling the movement of the stars in space. The music may seem to move slowly in various directions but it always remains under this tonal-gravitational control; this circle of fifths has different effects according to the way we seem to be facing. The energy of the universe is suggested in the central fast section which contains a tremendous climax of an intensity rare in string quartet literature. The slow music returns to end the work as it began, with the note D, contemplating immensities.
from notes by Lionel Pike © 1984