String Quartet No.3

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


This quartet focuses on three research questions:
•What temporal strategies can be used to construct a continuous musical argument that can sustain the listener’s attention over a single 45-minute structure?
•How can these strategies lead listeners to engage with the music on different hierarchical levels?
•What barriers are there to achieving this goal where the musical parameters are temporal rather than tonal?

Recent composers have attempted various solutions to the challenges of sustaining extended large-scale musical structures, principally using variants of serial technique, including Berio (using higher-level series), Nørgård (‘infinity series’), and Lindberg (large-scale ‘spectral’ structures). In this project an alternative solution is sought by turning away from pitch to non-pitch parameters – specifically a temporal strategy in which the music unfolds gradually in a single continuous musical argument articulated on different hierarchical levels, forming a rhythmic equivalent to Schenkerian strata. The audience is thus invited to engage with the music via several different modes of listening, and the emphasis is placed firmly on the modes of musical discourse rather than the musical language itself. Both Carter and Nancarrow have looked to rhythmic approaches to formal organisation with great success, but here the temporal strategy is different: the listener is initially presented with a small-scale pattern , which is mapped out onto increasingly larger shapes; thus s/he is ‘taught’ how to listen to the piece as it progresses, a strategy informed by Roger Penrose’s 2010 book Cycles of Time, which posits the interrelationship of time, entropy and cosmic inflation. Methodologically, this strategy is achieved by presenting the same basic shapes in multiple successive guises. On each repetition, the shapes are stretched temporally, so new shapes pop out of them, forms that are themselves then stretched in successive repetitions. The entropic structure is thus presented on many levels as the music progresses.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherEdition Peters Group
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2016


  • String Quartet


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