String Quartet No.5 'The Blue Windows'

Camden Reeves (Photographer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


World Premiere: Solem Quartet: Conway Hall, London, 15 March 2020

Programme Note
In October of 2019 I saw the ‘American Windows’ of Marc Chagall at the Art Institute of Chicago. I had visited Chicago in search of the Blues, as part of an on-going collaboration in creating Blues-inspired piano pieces for the pianist Tom Hicks. (I completed my BLUE SOUNDS for piano for Tom that year.) I had gone to Chicago in search of one kind of Blue, and fortuitously stumbled upon another.

Chagall’s so-called ‘American Windows’ were installed as a gift to the museum in 1977. They form a triptych of giant panels, each one saturated in blue. The first panel is a tribute to the city’s history of Rhythm and Blues – so not quite another kind of blue after all. The second panel is a hymn to peace, with its giant dove surrounded by olive
branches. The third, with its angelic figure, is a tribute to the importance of religious freedom in American culture, something of great personal significance to Chagall.

This ten-minute, single-movement, string quartet arose in a flash of spontaneous inspiration as I sat gazing at these windows. The music arrived fully formed in my mind in an instant, and upon returning home to Manchester I completed the score in just a few days. It is essentially an exploration of pure colour. Individual planes of harmony overlap, interlock, and blend into one another, much like the mosaic quality of Chagall’s windows. Against this shifting background, angels and doves soar in lines of gentle counterpoint, eventually dissolving into the white light of pure overtones.

THE BLUE WINDOWS was commissioned by the Solem Quartet with generous support from the Ida Carroll Trust, for première at Conway Hall, London, on 15 March 2020.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherComposers Edition
Size12 minutes
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2020


  • String Quartet
  • Blue
  • Chagall
  • Solem Quartet


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