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String Quartet No 15


String Quartet No 15 was written quickly during the summer of 1991. It is dedicated to the Vanbrugh Quartet who have developed a growing association with Simpson’s later chamber music. Like the thirteenth quartet (1989), the present work is cast in one continuous movement and is relatively short. The overall mood is tough and turbulent, perhaps suggesting an affinity with the language of Quartet No 11 (1984). As with much of Simpson’s more recent work, the chief roots are a collection of intervals—here a minor seventh (both ascending and descending) and a sequence of falling minor seconds, but as Robert Simpson once stated, ‘the listener can safely forget about trying to identify them consciously; in any case, no amount of textual ingenuity can give music a flow it does not naturally possess’.

The opening Adagio assumes the character of a brief but stern introduction, contrasting moments of extreme nervous tension with more gently flowing counterpoint. Major sevenths are particularly prominent here. The most extended part of the work is the second section, Severo, a large paragraph in a broadly flowing triple time based on a variant of the quartet’s opening theme. The severity and intensity are maintained for a considerable period without relaxation, until eventually a new section emerges alternating hushed, ghostly, repeated-note figurations for all four players with softly sustained writing. Tension rises again, at first culminating in a harsh chordal passage made up of sevenths piled on top of one another, finally reaching the climax of the quartet which fades away leaving a high C suspended on the first violin.

The concluding Allegretto is in the nature of a calm epilogue, as tenderness and delicacy pervade the work for the first time. The plaintive violin melody which begins this section is in fact yet another use of the work’s original intervals. Even here there is a brief moment of intensity, perhaps reminding the listener of the Severo for the last time before the work floats away into silence.

from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1993


Simpson: String Quartets Nos 14 & 15
CDA66626Archive Service


Movement 1: Adagio –
Track 8 on CDA66626 [3'21] Archive Service
Movement 2: Severo –
Track 9 on CDA66626 [9'34] Archive Service
Movement 3: Allegretto
Track 10 on CDA66626 [5'08] Archive Service

Track-specific metadata for CDA66626 track 8

Adagio –
Recording date
19 August 1992
Recording venue
St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Simpson: String Quartets Nos 14 & 15 (CDA66626)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: March 1993
    Deletion date: October 2014
    Archive Service
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