String Quartet No. 2


The Second String Quartet was commissioned for the 15th anniversary of the Alberni Quartet, based at Harlow, Essex. It is one of several works at this period employing the tape recorder to provide an extra dimension of instrumental performance. This provides the contrast and juxtaposition of live and pre-recorded material.

The Quartet is based on what I could remember of a piano rag I wrote as a student and later destroyed in 1970. The music arises from the process of trying to remember this piece. To begin with, the quartet plays the rag very slowly, whilst it emerges in fragments on a pre-recorded tape or a live pianist on an upright. These snippets get closer and closer together in a carefully planned way, whilst at the same time there’s an element of chance in the way they are superimposed on the quartet music. Finally the two versions – quartet and piano – catch up with each other. When this happens, both quartet and piano play the rag up to speed but deliberately out of synchronisation. The result is a hilarious attempt to bring together one of the most polished forms of black music (ragtime) and Europe’s most sophisticated development in chamber music (the string quartet).

The first performance was given by the Alberni Quartet at Harlow on 26 February 1977 and the first broadcast on 4 July 1977.

© 2008-24 Estate of Peter Dickinson