Commissioned by the BBC and premiered by the Chilingirian String Quartet.
Quoting Wood: In my Second and Third Quartets I attempted sectional, agglutinative forms: in my Fourth I return to the conventional four movement form of my First Quartet of 1962. Both works build up (as in the 19th century symphony) to the Finale, thus making it the most substantial movement, which provides a climax to the work. The First Movement has, in both works, only the status of an Introduction.
But there the consciously willed resemblances end. This Introduction follows the Second Quartet to a certain extent, in that it provides a sort of ‘cauldron’, from which elements to be used later can all be plucked. Its opening will reappear at various points throughout the work, most completely at a climatic point of the Finale (bar 110). Subsequent material will be more fully worked out in the second movement, a large Scherzo. The Introduction concludes with an unusually placed violin cadenza (itself a rare feature in a string quartet, the idea lifted from Elliott Carter’s First Quartet) of which the opening is to reappear halfway through the Finale.
The Scherzo (which follows attacca) does not have at its centre a discretely characterized Trio: a figure in double-stops like a distant fanfare supplies the necessary contrast of a second idea. The Slow Movement has a secondary idea first heard on the cello and marked appassionato: an agitato middle section recalls the opening of the work, but in a formulation which will be found closely to anticipate its reappearance in the Finale.
The Finale is planned on a broad scale. Only after a fully worked exposition of both primary and secondary material does the opening of the whole work return, now in a greatly extended form. Then, at bar 140, the tune of the violin cadenza is first harmonized in fanfare style on the upper instruments, then presented as a chorale on the lower ones, with a rushing semiquaver accompaniment above. This climatic activity mounts to the very end.
The work is dedicated to the Chilingirian Quartet, old friends over many years.
Score available separately: SOS04044