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The Lick Quartet by DAVID BRUCE


1. Tigran's Lick
2. Antonin's Lick
3. Jacob's Lick
4. Leos's Lick

"The Lick" has been described as 'The most famous jazz cliché ever' - it's a melodic fragment that has been used by countless jazz musicians over the years, and more recently has become something of a joke, an internet 'meme'. As wikipedia says, "it has become such a cliché, that musicians tend to only see it as an inside joke, so unironic performances are rare". After some fragments in the early sketches for this quartet started to resemble the lick, I decided to take that last statement as a challenge, and see if I could find ways to incorporate the lick unironically into the piece. Although it's not the 'main theme' of any of the movements, I like to think I've treated it a bit like, say, Shostakovich treats his famous 'signature' motive in his 8th String Quartet - something that forms part of the texture and background material for the whole piece. For those so inclined, spotting the various statements and fragments of the melody that fly around throughout the piece may, I hope, add to the pleasure of listening.

The piece is in four movements, each of which has a subtitle referencing a further influence on the music. In the first, "Tigran's Lick", I experimented with a kind of rhythm I'd discovered in the music of pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan - for those interested in such things, it's a polyrhythm that doesn't complete it's cycle, but instead gets cut off and abruptly restarts, causing a jolt in the rhythmic flow as it does. Similarly, the 3rd movement 'Jacob's Lick' references a trick used by the jazz wunderkind Jacob Collier, where what seems to be a relatively simple 5/4 pattern is actually built from wonky uneven shorter time signatures - again making for a somewhat bumpy ride.

The 2nd and 4th movements reference two classical composers who have had some influence on this piece. The 2nd movement 'Antonin's Lick' references Antonin Dvoøák. I have long loved the sunny simplicity of Dvoøák's American Quartet, far more than some of his more earnest works, and I think some of that same happy outlook can be felt throughout my piece and in this movement in particular. Finally, the 4th movement 'Leos's Lick' references one of my favourite composers - Leos Janáèek. Janáèek shares with Dvoøák the influence of folk music, but he is also prone to far more quirky extremes of register and texture, sometimes generating excitement from the feeling that the music is on the edge of falling apart. I particularly feel the connection to this part of Janáèek's music in the closing pages of my quartet, where the music flies by at a breakneck speed, and everyone - players and audience alike - must hold on to their seats and hope they make it out in one piece.
David Bruce July 2019

Press / Latest Reviews

Südwest Presse / Nov 2019
Von Helmut Pusche

...Wie lässt sich so etwas toppen? Mit enier Fast-Uraufführung. Der britische Komponist David Bruce hat sein "Lick Quartet" im Auftrag der Kammermusikgesellschaft Dallas und des Concertgebouw Für die Musiker aus Philadelphia geschrieben. Und nach Dallas und Amsterdam erklang es im Stadthaus das erste Mal in Deutschland. Ein Wek, das ein Lick, so nenne Kazzer und Rockmusiker einen kleinin Melodiefetzen, den sie aus ihrem Hand-werkskasten beim Improvisieren herausholen, in vier Satzen durch-dekliniert: mal polyrhythmisch, mal mit wilden Abwärts-glissandi, die an Dive-bombs von Hardrockgitarristen erinnern, mal mit der heiteren Volkstümlichkeit eines Anton Dovrak oder der ensteren Vaiante eines Leos Janacek.

Speiltechnisch und rhythmisch bewegt sich de Bruce-komposition auf hochstem Niveau. Nur merkte man da diesen Musikern einfach nich an. Was beim Horer ankam, war schilchte Freude am Umgang mit Versatzstücken, Stilzitaten und wieder dieser unglaublich dichte Klang. Das alles riss enige so mit, dass es auch zwischen den Satzen Applaus gab. / Oct 2019
Scott Cantrell

This was the world premiere of a 22-minute work jointly commissioned by the Dallas series and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Bruce, an American-born British composer in his late 40s, gave a helpful spoken introduction and shared in enthusiastic applause afterward.

The word "lick", common in jazz parlance, here refers to a short melodic motif that appears in each of four movements. The movements pay subtle tribute to two classical and two jazz composers: in turn, Tigran Hamasyan, Antonin Dvorak, Jacob Collier and Leos Janacek.

With often dancing, jabbing syncopations, the music sometimes hints at folk idioms, from the British Isles and Bohemia. In addition to patches of pluckings, there are occasional pitch slides and wispy high harmonics. It all adds up to an immediately engaging work, and the Dover gave it a dazzling performance.


for String Quartet

Duration 20 mins
Composed 2018-2019
First performance Dover Quartet, Dallas Chamber Music Society, 21 Oct 2019
Commissioned by Dallas Chamber Music Society and The Concertgebouw

Past Performances

Related Posts

 • The Lick Quartet performed by Dover Quartet (11/27/2019)


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