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Severity - 3. Scherzo

Year of composition
Difficult (Grades 7+)
3 minutes
Modern classical music
String quartet
Instrumental parts

This work was begun on December 3, 2008 and completed a week later. It is my second work to be allocated an opus number, the first being the Piano Trio (written in August 2008 and premiered in October in the same year at a school competition). Originally titled "First String Quartet", it strongly contrasts to the trio in terms of its emotional content and harmonic language which is significantly harsher. I chose the title "Severity" in favour of the original name for several reasons - firstly because of the concern that the title "string quartet" tends to carry too much baggage, being labelled within the genre that such composers as Haydn through to Bartok and Simpson mastered; secondly because the piece is only ten minutes long in total within a simple form that hardly exhausts the possibilities available in the basic material and, thirdly, because the new title carries a special significance to the conception of the piece and works within it on several levels. On one level, its character is uncompromisingly harsh and unpleasant - the harmonies are consistently dissonant and rough and no respite is offered until the final bars of the piece, even then solely because the energy has been exhausted. On another level, the treatment and nature of the material is of a rigour and sternness as though to favour intellectual strictness without compromise, undoubtedly leading to a degree of austereness (which can be sensed to an extent in the piano trio as well).

This final movement, marked Scherzo, is the first to contain any element of humour, yet the harmonic language remains the same. The first violin announces a melody that metamorphoses the two elements of the work into one line. There is textural variation throughout the movement, with subdued passages often entering without notice (such as at Figure A). Figure C represents the semitone running theme of the first movement altered to cover three semitones instead of four to fit the bars of the scherzo. At figure F, a fugue subject is announced, again combining the same elements, gradually building up as each voice is added. From this point onwards the music persistently moves towards a climax, which does not break off until figure N, where the motivic ideas are cut into fragments. Figure O onwards represents a coda - the music and severity of the quartet has finally run out of steam. For perhaps the first time, a pure and consonant harmony creates a resounding peaceful atmosphere to close the work - but a soft dabbing in the cello at figure Q is there to suggest that the severity and energy could quite possibly return to make an apperance again on another day.

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