There are few more path-breaking figures in English music than Ethel Smyth (1858–1944). The idea of a woman pursuing a professional musical career was highly unusual in 19th-century English life, but this was one of the many ways in which Smyth consistently challenged social norms and expectations. She composed the first two movements of her String Quartet in E minor in 1902, adding the third movement and finale in 1912. The work nevertheless has a masterful coherence and consistency.
The score of the first two movements of Delius’ early 1888 Quartet, long assumed lost, reappeared at auction in 2018. Edited and reunited with the two final movements, the complete work received what was probably its world premiere performance by the Villiers Quartet during the COVID-19 pandemic, via a livestream broadcast from Oxford on 8 October 2020. This is the first recording of the quartet in its original four-movement form.
The String Quartet in E minor by Ethel Smyth, one of the most innovative and original figures in English music, has a masterful coherence and consistency. With eloquent writing for the viola in particular, it is both playful and reverential, and ends with a flourish – forthright, bold and uncompromising, like Smyth herself. Delius wrote the early String Quartet in 1888 but it was rejected for performance and he was later to reuse the Scherzo for his mature Quartet of 1916–19 (8.573586). In 2018 the score of the two opening movements of the 1888 Quartet, long assumed lost, reappeared at auction and have been edited and reunited with the final two in this premiere recording, which adds significantly to our understanding of Delius’ early compositional directions.
The Villiers Quartet, one of the most recognised string quartets in the UK for the performance of British music, has released acclaimed recordings of works by Elgar, Delius, Fricker, Alwyn, William Sterndale Bennett, David Matthews and Kuljit Bhamra. As the quartet-in-residence at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building at St Hilda’s College, Oxford University, the broad curiosity of the Villiers Quartet and its passion for teaching and performing have made the ensemble a valuable resource for students and audiences alike.