Heath Quartet

Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some mediums are clearly harder to write for than others; for me, the String Quartet is probably the hardest of them all. I know many composers feel the same, for a mixture of reasons -

  • for composer who like colour (tick) the palette is extremely limited, especially as post-Bartok, almost (note **almost**!) any unusual colour you can think of has been done to the point of cliche

  • all four instruments demand, I mean really demand, equal treatment. For composers who like a healthy dose of um-cha (tick) or walking-bass (tick) the danger of having your cellist walking out on you are very real - more than that, using the cello as a bass instrument in this way really doesn't sound that great most of the time. It's not without reason that interplay and discussion of four equal partners has become the definition of a good quartet

  • historically, at least since Haydn's time, composers have written their most intellectual music for the medium. There's a huge weight of history bearing down on you shouting 'WRITE GREAT MUSIC ONLY FOR ME'. Indeed, a violinist in a quartet I worked with recently told me he saw it as his mission as a quartet player to 'save high art' - Yikes! I'm scared!

    As far as this last point goes, I love intellectual music - Berg is one of my favourite composers - but I think it was something of a coming of age for me when I realised I'm not really an intellectual composer. I think as soon as I started writing operas I realised I was much more interested in, well, whatever the opposite of intellectual music is - music that's just music, music that moves you in some way, makes you dance, sing, cry, whatever. At least for now I think that's much more what I need to focus on.

    So, earlier in the year Lake District Summer Music Festival commissioned a quartet from me for this year's festival, to be played by the exciting young Heath Quartet (pitcured above). After quaking in my boots for some months, when I finally got down to work on the piece it went really surprisingly smoothly. The key decision for me was that these would be a series of 'dances' in the Baroque sense. They would start in one place, explore the possibilities therein and stop. No Beethovenian developments, no 'musical philosophising' if you like. And that did the trick. I wrote five dances, each about 3-4 minutes long, and I'm really excited to hear them at the festival in August. They're called Dances for Oskar.


    Charlotte commenting on Heath Quartet:
    Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 17:51

    Dear David
    I was at the premiere for 'Dances for Oskar' and I thought it was the just best new piece of music for a string quartet I've ever heard. And believe me I've heard quite a few! It was so full of life, colour and dancing rhythms. Many congratulations. I hope you were happy with the performance, I thought the Heath Quartet did a fantastic job. Are they planning to perform it again do you know? For my money this is the kind of piece that should become a standard feature of the repertoire for any quartet worth their salt.
    I look forward to hearing more of your music in the future.
    Charlotte St. Jiles

    David Bruce commenting on Heath Quartet:
    Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 12:13

    Hi Charlotte - thanks so much for your kind words, I'm so glad you liked the piece! I'm not sure what the Heath Quartet's plans are with the piece - they just won a big competition in Holland recently so I expect they're run off their feet just at the minute! Hopefully they will play it more though!
    Thanks again


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