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String Quartet in F major 'From the Welsh Hills'


Boughton’s string quartets were written in 1923, at the height of his London success with The Immortal Hour. The first, in A major and based on Greek folk song, is dated June–July; and the second, in F major and subtitled ‘From the Welsh Hills’, August–September. Both reflect the buoyant mood brought about by fame and fortune and the acquisition of a third wife, Kathleen. Indeed, the F major quartet is a loving souvenir of a holiday they spent at Beddgelert in August 1923. Both quartets were first performed at a series of three chamber concerts he presented in London’s Aeolian Hall in 1923: the ‘Greek’ quartet on 12 October, and the ‘Welsh’ on 19 October. Critical reaction was decidedly mixed.

Typically, however, Boughton had caused offence by advertising his concerts as being ‘not for high-brows, but for the general musical public who still believe in the common-chord and an occasional tune’, and offered an even greater hostage to fortune by adding that there were to be ‘no free tickets even for “the profession”’. At the third concert (26 October) he repeated the quartet (the ‘Greek’) which the critics had most disliked.

Though a medium as complex as the string quartet is scarcely calculated to appeal to the ‘working men and women’ whom Boughton sought to address, it seems that the actual performances were not as immaculate as they might have been. The critics, therefore, could only make of them what they heard. And certainly both quartets test to the utmost the skill and agility of even the most dedicated performer. Their movements follow traditional Classical formulae with a degree of rhapsodic freedom that makes them difficult to grasp at a first hearing. The subtitles Boughton gave to each movement may also have been more of a hindrance than a help, though each was intended only as an indication of ‘the preponderant emotion’. Nor can the fact that he insisted that the audience listen in a darkened auditorium, with the players behind a screen, have added to the success of the occasion.

In addition to the descriptive titles given to the movements of the ‘Welsh’ quartet, Boughton added a further gloss to its first two movements (‘Purple and Gray’ and ‘Green and Gold’ respectively) but warned that the music was not to be thought of as programmatic except in the sense that it was a personal reaction to ‘the emotional pleasure one has in natural beauty of a certain kind’. About the third movement, ‘Satire’, he was more explicit, declaring that it mirrored his distress at finding that Snowdon had fallen victim to civilization – in particular to an undignified, tin-hut ‘hotel’ at its summit. As to form, this he declared to be in accord with Classical precepts and therefore in need of no explanation. He said nothing about the obvious influence of folk song, or whether he had made use of genuine Welsh material. Given his flair for inventing tunes that deceived even such informed collectors as Vaughan Williams, the question must remain, at least for the time being, unresolved.

from notes by Michael Hurd © 1997


Boughton: String Quartets & Oboe Quartet No 1
CDA66936Archive Service


Movement 1: Landscape from the valleys
Track 1 on CDA66936 [7'17] Archive Service
Movement 2: Landscape from the hilltops
Track 2 on CDA66936 [7'48] Archive Service
Movement 3: Satire (Conversation)
Track 3 on CDA66936 [3'16] Archive Service
Movement 4: Song of the Hills
Track 4 on CDA66936 [9'18] Archive Service

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