The Four Quarters Op.28

Composer: Thomas Adès (b. 1971)
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Composer: Thomas Adès (b. 1971)

Performance date: 05/07/2017

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 2011

Duration: 00:19:49

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington, Jonathan Stone [violins], Hélène Clément [viola], John Myerscough [cello]) - [quartet]

multi-award-winning British composer, pianist? and conductor Thomas
Adès is a towering figure in contemporary music. A major factor in
his success is that despite the modernity of his musical language, he
writes from inside, and from well inside, the classical tradition,
always anchoring his listener’s attention in some element of the
aurally familiar. One finds within his works clearly defined melodies
walking abreast with lively contrapuntal side-chatter. Musical
connoisseurs will raise an eyebrow of discerning interest to discover
canons and ostinati pulsing within his most embroiled
textures, even while their toes prove unable to resist tapping in the
face of repeated rhythmic invitations to the dance.

And he writes in the
traditional genres of the classical canon. His list of works includes
operas, symphonies, concertos, chamber music, pieces for solo piano
and choral anthems. His sonorities, moreover, are full and resonant
but, like those of Stravinsky, elegantly transparent and easy to
parse in the ear.

The crowning virtue
of his compositional creed is that he composes entirely for natural
instruments, without resorting to electronic gadgetry and digital
trickery. He seeks to ‘update’ (to use his term) traditional
music-making, not destroy it, nor supplant it with technology. When
in need of new orchestral sounds, for example, he prefers to have his
musicians scrub a washboard, rattle a bag of metal knives and forks,
or lower a vibrating gong into a bowl of water rather than have them
slouch over a laptop as if absorbed in a computer game.

The Four
Quarters was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and was premiered
there by the Emerson Quartet in March 2011. The work takes as its
subject the passage of time during a 24-hour period, with each of its
four movements, or ‘quarters’, evoking a distinct time of day.

The journey begins
in the late evening with a movement entitled Nightfalls, a
curious plural of mysterious import. The sound of the strings, played
at the opening without vibrato, is as raw as the night is dark. While
the mood is meditative to begin with, the sudden dramatic contrasts
of loud and soft that follow hint at unsettling presences. The second
movement Serenade: Morning Dew suggests in its
opening pizzicato section the arrival of water droplets on
the fronds and leafy limbs of outdoor plant life, and hints in its
bowed sections at the glints of sunlight arriving with the dawn of a
new day.

Days, another
curious title in the plural, brings us to noon and beyond. Largely
structured around a syncopated ostinato rife with repeated notes in
the second violin, it builds to a climax in which all instruments
play in unison before trailing off as they head their separate ways.

The Twenty-Fifth
Hour is an impossible time of day, a fact given whimsical
acknowledgement in its almost- impossible time signature: 25/16,
which is divided up into repeating sections of 2/4 + 3/16 and 2/4 +
6/16. The simple dance-like quality with which it begins belies the
treacherous difficulty of the alternating harmonics and stopped notes
that generate its yodelling timbral charm. The movement churns to its
conclusion in the second half over throbbing sustained double-stops
in the cello that nudge the increasingly acquiescent and peaceable
musings of its non-knee-held colleagues as they ebb towards a soft
but nonetheless shocking (for contemporary music) conclusion: a major