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String Quartet No 8


String Quartet No 8, commissioned by Brunel Philharmonic Society with funds made available from the Greater London Arts Association, was written in 1979 and first performed on 21 June 1980 by the Delmé String Quartet at Brunel University where Professor Gillett directed Biological Sciences. The diminutive scherzo of this quartet gives an impression of the ‘formidable delicacy’ (the composer’s words) of a mosquito, and its subtitle, ‘Eretmapodites gilletti’, refers to the species named after its discoverer, the dedicatee of the work.

There are four movements, each of which is in some way unconventional. The first is a large, slow fugue whose intensity is mitigated at times by more reflective material: the fugue subject is a great span of melody that crosses all the strings of each of the instruments in turn and embodies the elements from which the rest of the music grows. But the subject is itself continually changed and transformed, gaining all the while in power and energy. At the climax of the fugue the scurrying motion of the viola and cello, and the inexorable increase in latent momentum which has been gradually built up, are such that the two violins are suddenly left with a steady chiming passage, which then fades into the distance. It is as if a band of campanologists has worked up such power, speed and propulsion in their ringing that they can leave the bells to continue sounding alone under the motion generated.

The second movement illustrates the mosquito in a little Scherzo of A–B–A form. Professor Gillett, on being asked whether the music of this piece is what the insects sound like, replied, ‘No—but it’s what they behave like’, and he indicated that D H Lawrence’s little poem ‘The mosquito knows’ is also an accurate account of the insect:

The mosquito knows full well, small as he is
he’s a beast of prey.
But after all
he only takes his bellyful;
he doesn’t put my blood in the bank.

The third movement is for muted strings and is all elusive half-shades. It is cast in very small-scale sonata form. The finale—whose size balances that of the opening fugue—is a highly original movment, being for part of its length a variation of the first movement, but without the fugal texture. It is tumultuous, yet deliberate, and the tempo is not fast. Pungency rather than speed creates the intense feeling of activity. In the first movement the calmer, more reserved music eventually prevailed; but in the finale it is the sense of concentrated energy that ultimately triumphs, with scales of all kinds evolving from the texture and becoming dominant.

from notes by Lionel Pike © 1984


Simpson: String Quartets Nos 7 & 8
CDA66117Archive Service


Movement 1: Grave, molto intensivo
Track 4 on CDA66117 [11'30] Archive Service
Movement 2: Molto vivace 'Eretmapodites gilletti'
Track 5 on CDA66117 [3'09] Archive Service
Movement 3: Allegretto grazioso
Track 6 on CDA66117 [4'56] Archive Service
Movement 4: Risoluto e concentrato
Track 7 on CDA66117 [11'43] Archive Service

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