Paul Pellay-‘Four Guys in a Room’

Posted on April 12th, 2012 by

Paul Pellay-‘Four Guys in a Room’ (String Quartet) 


Workshop Session-London 12th April 2012 

with Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Morgan Goff, Neil Heyde, Mihailo Trandafilovski

Serious moments in the composer's workshop... 12th April 2o12

Workshop extracts from ‘Four Guys….’

Opening the workshop door, opening up the collaborative process, is very important to me. These ‘workshop recordings’ are made in the simplest way, just leaving a simple microphone up during discussions and experimentation. These are not performances, they are not even yet music, but a glimpse into the musicians’ workroom, reading new material, ‘musicking’, discussing, experimenting, making mistakes, and laughing a lot…


Figure 5 Numbly per Zio Giancarlo RIP  Figure 9 (experimentation with dry bow strokes) Dogged, with clenched teeth!-With Unfocussed Pallor-As before, but growing increasingly rowdyFigure 16  With a dim inner glow-As if lost in another dimension-Fumbling for a way forward-BecalmedFigure 21 Doggedly trying to push forward

Mihailo Trandafilovski and Paul Pellay 12th April 2012


The composer writes: A few random observations, with the odd autobiographical aperçu thrown in for good and useless measure!

As I wend my way through the 5th decade of my life, it seems increasingly clear to me that a composer never stops evolving and developing. when I look back at what I was writing some 15-20 years ago, I’m astonished at the distance I’ve travelled from there. Not that I would repudiate what I wrote then, or what thoughts and ideas I espoused at the time; but the person whowrote that music is quite different from the one I am now, and will surely change just as radically over the next 20 years, should I make it that far. Traditional forms, which were a big and thoroughgoing interest for me up till the mid-1990s, no longer draw me, but that is not to invalidate their importance to me: there just came a day where I was ready to move on to something freer, more experimental. Ready-made frameworks can no longer comfortably accommodate my musical ideas. So, when Peter Sheppard Skaerved started badgering me for a big (and I mean big) work for the Kreutzer Quartet, I wondered how to approach this. Inexperience had nothing to do with my hesitation: I had penned 2 string quartets back in my more traditional-minded 20s, and I’d long had a love for this most contrapuntally egalitarian of mediums. But I needed to address it in a way that was wholly new for me: a regression to what I was doing 15-20 years ago was not an option. Bu this point, of course, I had already forged a collaboration with Peter of several years’ standing: of the many works that came out of this association, the largest oand most ambitious was my evening-length Thesaurus of Violinistic Fiendishness (2002-04), which I now feel was my breakthrough piece. From there, I was ready to move on to a more freewheeling manner of musical construction. So, how to reconcile such a mindset with the string quartet, especially considering the daunting repertoire that this most storied of chamber music forms has amassed from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven through to Shostakovich, Robert Simpson and Elliott Carter? The best answer seemed to me the simplest one: start afresh. My avoidance of the term “string quartet” in the work’s title is no accident. Peter once mentioned to me Michael Finnissy’s definition of a string quartet: “Four guys in a room”. In time this would become my “punto di partenza” for this work, as well as part of its title!

Along with my reconfiguration of what constituted “form” in my music, I started to think about the whole idea of beginnings and endings. Back in 2005, I had written a trio for 2 violins and viola, “Ma allora, se…..” (= “But then, if…”), which wound up not having a proper ending: on the last page, I instructed the players to walk offstage, playing all the while, and getting louder the further offstage they got. The present work takes that idea and turns it on its head. It’s a piece without a beginning, in the sense that the music has already been ongoing before it has come within earshot, or on stage, come to that. In fact, the work picks up where “Ma allora, se…..” left off. Indeed, the two violinists and the violist troop onstage playing the same music that had ended the earlier piece. But there’s a new ingredient in the mix: the cellist, who is already on stage tuning up when he’s joined by the other three “guys” entering the “room”. They have barely settled in their seats, still playing the Trio’s music, when the cellist hijacks the proceedings with a belligerent cadenza, thus initiating the journey proper. From there, the music goes…………


Well, to try and describe it would defeat the whole purpose of having written this work, so this is all best left to the listener’s imagination as the performance progresses through this big, 60-plus minute musical road trip. I will point out one or two signposts, however. In February 2009, early in the work’s composition, a much-loved relative back in Italy passed away, and I found myself commemorating him in what turned out to be the first of the work’s many (and almost random) points of tense stillness which break up the action. Much later in the journey, a well-known tune heard in glazed natural harmonics will reveal how far I had arrived on New Year’s Day in 2010 (as the tune’s identity will be pretty obvious, there will be no prizes awarded for correctly identifying it!).

As for this journey’s eventual destination………..well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?