DON BANKS (1923-1980): String Quartet, RICHARD MEALE (1923-2009): String Quartet No. 1, NIGEL BUTTERLEY (b.1935): String Quartet, FELIX WERDER (1922-2012): String Quartet No. 8 "Consort Music".
Catalogue Number: 04Q095
Reference: MD 3371
Description: Banks' quartet is a late work, written after his return from England to Australia and his successful film music career in the UK. Due to administrative commitments, it was the only work he composed in 1975! Which is significant in that it represents a throwback to his early studies with Seiber, Dallapiccola, Nono and Babbitt in being an exercise in strict serialism. He explained this as being necessary 'to get the compositional muscles working'. Another significant early influence was Roberto Gerhard, who had died five years earlier, and Gerhard's Second Quartet is specifically referred to in Banks' use of pitch and duration serialism. Half way through there is a noticeable change in style, from formally rigorous to a freer, more sensuous and rhapsodic idiom, as though having used the strict discipline of Babbittian combinatorial note-rows to set the mechanism in motion, he then felt confident to allow intuition greater control over the music's evolution. Butterley's work is also serial, with the row stated clearly at the beginning of each of the two movements. The work alternates between intricate contrapuntal textures and passages in homorhythmic chords - still atonal, of course, but providing a greater sense of harmonic warmth. The piece takes its inspiration from Henry Vaughan's 1650 poem 'The Revival', which progresses from winter to spring, darkness to light, and at the beginning of the second movement of the quartet, as though signifying the spring thaw, an exuberant passage, strikingly contrasted with the austerity of the first movement, is written with a degree of freedom in the co-ordination of parts. Meale's First Quartet is also in two movements, of an even greater degree of contrast. The first is a set of variations on a harsh chord sequence, hard as stone, which progressively add a degree of further tension, even of risk, by relaxin the rhythmic co-ordination between parts, requiring the performers to determine the onset and release of gestures in the heat of performance. Moments of precise ensemble are thus rendered all the more climactic. The second movement extends this freedom of ensemble ad absurdum, by re-positioning the players further from the audience and from each other, with a minimum of visual contact. The freely notated, ethereal material, rich in harmonics, is in sets of determined pitches but without a predetermined order, so that the result is threads of sound traversing the expanded soundstage in an organic, unstructured manner. Werder's quartet is confrontational and abrasive throughout. The composer moved from progressive pre-war Berlin to England, which he seems not to have embraced, and then to Australia, which he regarded as excessively conservative for the remainder of his long life. An unrepentant avant-gardiste, his attitude may be summed up in statements like "A thing of beauty is a bore forever," and that "music is not a soporific for calming the neuroses of a decadent bourgeois society". This eight-minute little display of musical bad temper is densely motivic, highly fragmented, and explots extremes of timbre, including extended noise textures, somewhat ahead of their time for 1964 Australia. The tempo directions are a cut-up of those from Walton's Cello Concerto, from which no other material is borrowed, an apparent statement of dislike and contempt for that generation of English music.