My journey from rock to baroque all started because I decided to enrol on a part-time online course – Composing Music Workshop Online – run by the Continuing and Further Education department of Cardiff University. The course advertises itself as offering personal, long-distance tutorial support via e-mail to new and experienced composers who want to pursue a project of their own, which is exactly what it does in practice.
The course is aimed at students writing in a ‘contemporary Western art music classical style’, which is not really me at all. But I definitely liked the idea of exploring different perspectives on musical composition, so why not? I chose to focus on writing for the string quartet.
You almost definitely know what I mean by a string quartet but, to provide some context, it is an ensemble of stringed instruments, comprising two violins, a viola and a cello – an example of chamber music, played by a small group of musicians capable of performing in a large room of a house. String quartets are normally associated with classical music, but they can also be used to accompany pop songs – good examples being the Beatles’ Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby. From my limited experience in developing the pieces on this page, there is plenty of scope for using the string quartet in a wider range of genres.
Typically, the first violin leads with the main melodic phrases, with the other instruments providing counterpoint, harmony and, at times, rhythmic support. Obviously, the viola plays at a lower register than the violins with the cello sitting underneath that.
My very first project, called Out of Hiding, is written in the baroque style of the father of the string quartet, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) – hence the rather poor pun in the name of the piece. For much of his career, Haydn was the most celebrated composer of his day. He was a friend and mentor of Mozart and a tutor of Beethoven.
I started my investigation of the string quartet with this piece by Haydn from 1781. It taught me a lot about how the instruments work together.
By the way, I really like this idea of a video showing the score alongside the music. That’s something I’m definitely going to try myself.
So, here’s my first, very short attempt at writing for the string quartet:
I produced this using the virtual instruments from the Cremona Quartet series distributed by Native Instruments.
Since penning this post, I’ve now written two longer pieces, one in a more romantic style and one more avant-garde, which you can listen to here.