About this Recording
8.557389 - LEFANU: Catena / String Quartet No. 2 / Clarinet Concertino
English  German 

Nicola LeFanu (b. 1947)

I thought of the form of String Quartet No. 2 as like a concise poem, a musical equivalent to a sonnet. Just as a sonnet presents a continuous train of thought across its internal divisions, so my quartet unfolds, playing as a concise single movement created by a number of distinct sections. The musical thought is carried forward in a succession of changing images, contrasting but organically related. Points of unison act like punctuation in a poem; these unisons and their associated cadences are like the rhymes – hidden rhymes and line-end rhymes – which create the characteristic scheme of a sonnet. The quartet was composed in April 1996 and is dedicated to the memory of my parents William LeFanu (1904-1995) and Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994).

The Concertino for clarinet and string orchestra is a recomposition of Invisible Places, the clarinet quintet which I wrote in 1986. I enjoyed the chance to reinterpret the string quartet music for the larger sonority of a string orchestra, which in turn releases the clarinet to create a more wide-ranging persona. The Concertino is elusive, understated, and suggestive rather than didactic, and is made up of sixteen brief movements. Like its predecessor, it is indebted to Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities. First, the novel offered a model of how to create a continuous narrative through many tiny, discontinuous ideas: in my piece, each fragment has its own cyclic path, now expanding, now contracting. Second, and most important, was the image from the closing words of Calvino’s book. The Great Khan senses the nightmare of our ‘brave new world’. Marco Polo urges him to ‘seek and learn to recognise who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not of the inferno, then make them endure, give them space’.

In October 1992, when my opera Blood Wedding received its first production, the part of the Moon (one of the personifications of death, stalking the lovers as they hide in the forest) was created by Nicholas Clapton. The chamber work Canción de la luna revisited the world of Lorca’s moonlit forest, setting the whole of Lorca’s speech for the Moon in the original Spanish.

Catena for eleven solo strings was composed in summer 1999 at the Centre d’Art i Natura, Farrera, in the high Pyrenees. My studio looked straight into the folds of the mountains. As the music grew in my mind, I watched this seemingly unchanging view altering with every shift of the light. On the studio wall there was also a painting which captured this same outlook from four different perspectives. These images and ideas inform my work. The diatonic ‘natural tuning’ of the opening music underpins all that follows, though it is seldom glimpsed, being overlaid with chromatic or microtonal harmony. The layers of the music are constantly reshaping themselves, so that different textures and melodies come into focus. I called the piece ‘Catena’, using the word in the sense of ‘a chain of hills’; but also remembering the ‘Catena’ pieces by the composer Donald Sur (1934-1999), to whose memory the piece is dedicated.

Nicola LeFanu


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