Nicholas James Jones

String Quartet

duration: 20 minutes

The String Quartet is concerned entirely with abstract forms. The first movement is cast in a quasi-sonata form, the third movement is a fantasy, and the middle movement is an amalgamation of a scherzo and an elegy.

The characteristic feature of the first movement is development, in particular the prominence of this in the thematic workings. Although the opening section is a mere nine bars in length, it serves as a cell from which everything develops and is, in effect, a microcosm of the whole movement. The prominence of development, however, does not eradicate the possibility of clear, contrasting sections. Indeed, as will be discerned, there is a clear distinction between first and second subject groups, although the subject need not necessarily be thematic. There is also a development proper and a recapitulation. The serenity of the ending is denied by an agitated viola line that leads directly into the middle movement.

This movement exploits the possibility of having two, profoundly contrasting elements within the same movement. The opening is tentative, with occasional suggestions pointing towards slower music - the elegy. But as these pointers gradually diminish in duration, the scherzo proper grows in confidence until a chord first heard in the opening bars - constructed entirely of perfect fifths and played with harmonics - heralds the elegy. But this is soon interrupted by the scherzo which, after leading to a climax, transforms itself into the elegy once more. After an impassioned statement in unison, and an attempt to start the scherzo again, the movement ends Profondamente calmo with a solo from the first violin.

The final movement is a fantasy of sorts with the juxtaposition of many sections each with its own character. After a pizzicato opening (whose pitches are used to construct themes further on into the movement), and a fiery outburst on the first violin, the music leads to a more flowing and stable section. But this stability is undermined as the music becomes more agitated until it leads to a violent outburst with strummed pizzicato that eventually guides the music back for a restatement of some of its previous sections. When the music returns to the pizzicato, however, there is an unexpected return to a music that resembles the first movement until this is propelled into a final clinching, valedictory tail-piece that reflects the intensity and violence of the work as a whole.

Nicholas Jones recently completed his PhD on Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's Third Symphony and composition at Cardiff University, where he now works part-time as an Associate Lecturer. In 1996 he was one of eight students selected to study with Maxwell Davies on Hoy, Orkney. In 1997 he was highly commended by the Royal Philharmonic Society for his orchestral piece, Bruaria. Alveley Suite, a work for euphonium and piano, will be published in 2001.

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