First performance 12 October 2011, at St George's Hall, Liverpool, by David Pyatt (horn) and the Sacconi String Quartet, as part of the Centenary Concert of the Rodewald Concert Series.
Throughout my musical life I have found the horn one of the most evocative and beautiful of all instruments, and it is no surprise that I have written a number of works for it, including a concerto, a trio with violin and piano, and a triptych of concert works for horn and piano. Writing a work for horn and string quartet has long been an ambition, therefore, fuelled not only by my love of the instrument but also by the astonishingly small repertoire of horn quintets.
This work was commissioned, to celebrate their centenary, by the Rodewald Concert Society, Liverpool, who gave me an invaluable education in the masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire at their concerts, which I attended regularly during my schooldays. The quintet is dedicated to Nancy and Douglas Brady, two of my oldest and closest friends from Liverpool. It was written in 2010/11 and is continuous. There are, however, three main “movements”: an opening quick one, which is interrupted twice by brief slow interludes referring to the motto heard at the start, a substantial slow movement which also contains two short scherzando sections (much as Brahms’s A major Violin Sonata has two quick trio sections in its slow movement), and a fast finale, a descendant of the Beethoven one-in-a-bar scherzo.
The scherzando interludes interwoven with the slow movement are frequently muted, and have something of an other-worldly atmosphere – perhaps Queen Mab came to deliver me of some dreams while I was writing it. At the end of the finale, the furious activity gives way to an elegiac conclusion, which I feel was greatly influenced by events in the world outside at the time of composition, the music descending to a quiet, sustained C on horn and cello. The work lasts just over 20 minutes and was first performed by David Pyatt with the Sacconi String Quartet in the St George’s Hall Concert Room, Liverpool, on 12th October 2011.
John McCabe - 2011