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The Four Quarters Op.28

Thomas Adès (b. 1971)

Composer
Thomas Adès (b. 1971)
Composition Year
2011
Work Movements
1. Nightfalls
2. Serenade: Morning Dew
3. Days
4. The Twenty-Fifth Hour
Artists
Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington, Jonathan Stone [violins], Hélène Clément [viola], John Myerscough [cello]) [quartet]

Programme Note Writer:
© Donald Gislason



The 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 chord.

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The Four Quarters Op.28

Composer: Thomas Adès (b. 1971)
Performance date: Wednesday 5th July 2017
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Thomas Adès (b. 1971)
Work Title The Four Quarters Op.28
Composition Year 2011
Work Movements 1. Nightfalls
2. Serenade: Morning Dew
3. Days
4. The Twenty-Fifth Hour
Artist(s) Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington, Jonathan Stone [violins], Hélène Clément [viola], John Myerscough [cello]) [quartet]
Performance Date Wednesday 5th July 2017
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:19:49
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quartet
Premiere Irish Premiere
Programme Note Writer © Donald Gislason



The 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 chord.