Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Ensemble
Instrumentation: String quartet
Length: 10 minutes
Commissioned by: Belfast Music Society
Premiere: 20 February 2010, Great Hall
at Queen’s, Belfast.
Škampa Quartet


Reflecting on the Belfast Music Society’s 2010 Festival theme ‘Root and Branch’, I recalled my past composition teachers and considered my own influences as a composer.  Kevin Volans was a Composer In Residence during my time at Queen’s and to this day I still refer to his lesson notes.  I remember discussing compositional material, method and result and the changes that you make to your chosen material.  These changes should be few but the rate of change should change.  This one idea has been a mayor influence in my career both as a composer and a music educator.

As a composer, I am interested in the physical gestures that musicians perform when they play together, especially string players, and it is those gestures that give direction to my work.  The piece is based on a one-bar gesture that appears in various guises throughout the work.  The opening pizzicato rhythmic interplay between the four instruments follows a series of specific pitches.  The one-bar gesture now appears bringing in a new, slower and expressive section, with the first violin and cello often in unison and the inner two instruments with a drone-like quality.  Again the brief gesture ends this section but now sticks around to be developed before the final section.  Here the players alternate open and stopped strings in fast moving lines.