David Matthews-2nd Quartet Op 16(1974-1980)
Elegy R.S. in memoriam
(outtakes of recording session 29 1 14)
Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Morgan Goff, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Neil Heyde)
David Matthews’s 2nd Quartet was written between 1974 and 1976. The composer revised it extensively, prior to the premiere, in 1980. This quartet is very much in three movements, but the structure is fascinating. The first two ‘Sonata’ and ‘Scherzo’, whilst the ‘Elegy’ follows plays as long as both these movements put together. Roles emerge for the various players in this piece. In the first movement, the viola begins to take on a rhapsodic, keening character. This sets the stage for the impassioned music of morning, with which he begins the last movement. The natural world is felt through out, birdsong, rushing water, and a sense of topography. At the beginning of the 19th Century, it had been British painters who had argued for the position of landscape painting as a full art form; Matthews is one of the British composers who have most successfully channelled this into chamber music. David admitted freely that the second movement is a response to the rock music which he loved-this quartet writing could not have happened without that.
Outtakes of David Matthews-1st Quartet 1970-80(First Recording)
David’s First Quartet was written in 1970, and revised in 1980. It is an astonishing first venture into the medium, and promises what, indeed, was to come, a brilliant cycle of quartets to follow; a cycle, which, I would argue has proved to be as significant as any written in the past 100 years. Like a number of the quartets which would follow, it plays without a break, and, as such, might be said to follow on in the tradition of quartets established, or I should correctly say, re-established by Cobbett’s ‘Fantasy’ competitions, which inspired great works from composers including Britten, Howells and Vaughan Williams earlier in the 20th Century. Even Matthews’s multi-movement quartets toy with this ‘without-a-break’ form, with movements hooking together with cadenzas or momentum between sections. What is most striking, for me, is how David was seeking, as he has so often said, a ‘vernacular’ a way of using all the sophistication of harmony, counterpoint, and rhythm available to him, whilst forging a language which is ‘open’, and does not exclude a listener who might consider themselves initiate, not know some abstruse shibboleth. It’s fascinating, how much the quartet anticipates the atmosphere, particularly at the opening, of Michael Tippett’s 4th and 5th Quartets, neither of which had been written in 1970. There are undertones which really appeal to us as a quartet-the love of Alban Berg’s ‘Lyric Suite’, of Beethoven. But most of all, it’s the sheer command of the medium-David, it seems, has always known how to make the Quartet shimmer, dance, burn and hover. It’s just extraordinary that this work is not better known; with it, Matthews served notice of a new topography of string writing.