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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 all-muted second movement is essentially a variation on the first movement. The general idea I have tried to capture in this movement is that of a headache, one that leaves the victim helpless and lying in bed throughout a long in great discomfort, although compressed here to four minutes! It opens with a soft, double stopped chord - a rearrangement of the chord that began the first movement - spread over many octaves that constantly reappears to unsettle the atmosphere. Figure A gives out an exact verticalisation of the opening of the first movement, in an attempt to create a different sort of mood with the same notes. Figure B relates to the section between A and D in the first movement in the form of running semitone semiquavers in contrary motion, as though trying to restart the energy from earlier on. Eventually an accelerando is reached near the end of the movement in triplets which is then rapidly cut off, paralleling the end of the first movement.
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Reviews of Severity - 2. Lento
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