Stephen Maniam

String Quartet

duration: 15 minutes


String Quartet
ii) Largo
iv) Steady - Lento - Steady

Whilst writing the String Quartet, I was also producing my Masters dissertation on Ligeti’s Piano Etudes. Although there is no written dedication, the influence of this great 20th[/21st] century master has leaked more heavily into this piece than anything else I have written, partly consciously (Why waste time studying other composers, if not to plunder their best ideas?), partly the subliminal effect of being immersed in his music. At all times the influence remains just that. The piece is my own and there is no attempt at pastiche.

The 2nd movement is the only movement that remains in a single tempo. All the other movements explore, at some level, the contrast of fast and slow material. At the core of this movement is the exploration and distortion of a single "traditional" chord (a major 7th chord). Slow glissandi and gradually shifting microtonal harmonies give the piece most of its character with the effect being similar to looking through a kaleidoscope and very, very gradually turning the end. Several possible pairs of 2-note chords are locked in the major 7th chord and, although different pairings are explored, I have focused on the two pairs of fifths, stacked a major third apart (the open interval of a fifth is important in all four movements of the String Quartet). The pairs, gradually diverge and although the major 7th chord does briefly resurface in the middle of the piece, It is not until the final bars that kaleidoscope comes full circle back to the opening tetra-chord.

In the final movement the glissandi and open 5ths return, this time as ever-rising figures that speed up giving way to progressively accelerating scale patterns (falling and rising scales permeate much of the String Quartet). Interlocking and gradually mutating ostinati are interupted by a sequence of slowly rising major 7th chords, but eventually lead to frenetic rising passage-work that is cut short in a dramatic falling chromatic scale that also ends the first and third movements, this time sounding absolute and final.

Stephen Maniam (b.1974 ) started his musical education learning the double bass at the age of 13. Whilst at school he played with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and toured internationally playing traditional music with bands Celtic Spirit and Annasach (and being a double bass player, got roped into playing with just about every ensemble in his home town of Edinburgh).

During his studies at Durham University he discovered 'New Music' and wrote his first few pieces (including Miro Genere for a workshop performance by the Nash Ensemble) guided by Sohrab Uduman, Philip Cashian and Peter Manning. In 1996 his orchestral piece The Seven Men of Moidart was broadcast by the BBC Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins on BBC 2 Television and BBC Radio 3 as part of the BBC Young Musicians Young Composer Workshop. In the three years after graduating, he worked at Wells Cathedral School, gaining a teaching qualification from Cambridge University and attending summer schools in Ireland, Dartington and Hoy with Peter Maxwell Davies, Alasdair Nicholson, Kurt Schwertsik, Michael Alcorn and Stephen Montague. In conjunction with these courses he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council Award and a Performing Rights Society Bursary.

In December 2000 Stephen received an MA with distinction from City University where he studied with Rhian Samuel and Simon Emmerson. Recent performance highlights include The Crocodile Song (performed by Ensemble Aleph at the 1999 Bath International Festival and Theatre Dunois, Paris in association with the spnm), Trias (performed at the South Bank as part of the 2000 Park Lane Group concert series), City Polyphony (premiered by City University Symphony Orchestra under Patrick Bailey at St Johns, Smith Square) and workshop performances by Jane Manning, Icebreaker, Kreutzer Quartet and Archinto Quartet. He is currently living in Edinburgh and future performance highlights include a second performance of City Polyphony at this year's Gaudeamus Music Week.

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