String Quartet No 1

Genre: Chamber

Mood: Tragic

Forces: String quartet

Length: 14 Minutes


A string quartet in four movements: Mai Allegro, Reverie, Hungarian Dance and Mai Tranquillo.

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Programme notes

String Quartet No1 (2000)
Programme notes © F L Dunkin Wedd 2000

Mai allegro; Reverie; Hungarian Dance; Mai tranquillo

The string quartet can be daunting as a medium: the composers of the past have used it for their most intimate and serious utterances - as well as for their gayest. I delayed writing a string quartet for many years until I felt ready to handle the form - and then wrote three in eighteen months. I know that’s not much by Haydn’s standards, but it’s a lot by mine….

This is a very personal work, full of hopes rewarded or disappointed, and perhaps not my easiest music in its subject matter. Sunshine comes out, but is always subsumed by clouds.

The first movement is marked amaro; the spiky opening features a characteristic rising celllo figure to a harmonic. Nothing really settles rhythmically, harmonically or melodically: every restless new figure starts out firmly but is denied or fractured. We get Tchaikovsky melodies, Bachian counterpoint, jazzy riffs, but nothing takes root, and things peter out without firm conclusion.

The second movement, marked dolente, and played with mutes, starts with a hymn-like chordal passage. This breaks down into more restlessness, and eventually ends – no more resolved than the first movement.

The third movement marked agitato sounds as if it will be a bit more cheerful, but soon falls victim to the same fractured denials – despite optimistic restarts.

The last movement is more firmly rooted with jazzy chords and melodies over an ostinato bass note. A fractured figure changes the mood to an aching melody started on the cello and then shared between the instruments. The ostinato figures come back and the movement fades and ends in the same restless mood that has characterised the whole piece.


agitato = agitated
allegro = happy
amaro = bitter
dolente = crying
mai = never
tranquillo = tranquil