Commissioned by Blue Engine String Quartet
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I. A fanatic heart: The swiftly increasing ferocity of this movement emerges through obsessive motives in polyrhythmic superposition, nested in a starkly etched texture. A meditative passage of successive rising minor seconds frames the movement, and is also heard at its core. It echoes the bleak desolation which fanaticism, whether collective or personal, brings in its wake.? II. Lament: The Lament can be understood as a grieving response to the first movement. There are no changes of time signature or tempo anywhere in the movement, which is an extremely unusual procedure in my music! A plaintive arioso for solo violin gives way to a shadowy descent. Descending figures play a prominent role in the texture which accompanies the principal melody. An ascent from the depths, as if reversing the initial descent, leads to an ethereal coda, punctuated by descending gestures from the second violin, as if its cries of distress were echoing into space. III. Gubbinal: The third movement is a kind of scherzo, a dialogue between two contrasting views of life. The upper strings insistently make their case for a cheerful, buoyant outlook through teasing, wheedling, pleading. The viola and cello remain firmly in opposition, at first simply responding with a stubborn NO, then articulating their grouchy disgruntled state with grumbling and whining. The title derives from Wallace Stevens' satiric poem Gubbinal, with its refrain 'The world is ugly/And the people are sad.' It has been suggested that the source of 'Gubbinal' is the slangword 'gubbins' - indicating that this is a gubbinslike proposition. IV. With growing passion: The Finale emerges from desolation to affirm an increasingly passionate approach to life. It is in ABA form: the upwardly-striving, fervent melody of the opening gives way to the rhythmically insistent, jolting, thrusting energy of the central section. The irregularly pulsing rhythms provoke a new blossoming of lyricism; this prepares the return of the initial melody, intensified, transfigured, building to a swift climax, culminating in a shimmering F-sharp minor triad, whose topmost note emerges like an undying flame, burning in the air.-John Plant