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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).
The first movement, Allegro molto, begins with the trading between the four instruments of the interval of a minor ninth, building up an important harmony which then squashes into itself as the parts move in contrary motion by semitones. These first three bars contain the substance of all the material used in all the movements. At figure A a running passage is introduced - a motivic idea based on the semitone movement of the opening bars which appears constantly throughout the work. The two basic elements outlined - minor 9ths and contrary motion movement by the semitone - dominate the whole of the first movement. At figure B the semitone figure rises and at figure C a simple rising and falling figure is introduced, still based on the opening material, that gains greater significance in its form later on.
At figure D the texture changes to become more subdued where fragments of the main theme are scattered, following by a scurrying tower of minor 9ths, the interval that dominates virtually all of the harmony during the piece, at figure E. A sudden build up leads to a brief but ferocious statement of the material at figure F which quickly subsides. The next few phrases act as a build up to a sort of recapitulation of the opening gesture at figure J. The most aggressive stage of the movement appears at letter K with the appearance of harsh double stopped chords. At letter M the theme attempts to recover itself but fails as the music is drawn home by a furious crescendo.
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Reviews of Severity - 1. Allegro molto
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