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ClassicsOnline Home » CORP, R.: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 / Country Matters (Wilde, Maggini Quartet)
Praised for his previous choral music albums, British composer and conductor Ronald Corp now makes his Naxos chamber music début with this disc. His First String Quartet takes its name from the world’s largest, most stately and regal bird, the bustard, whose soaring flight and dance-like gait are evoked in this fascinating piece. His Second String Quartet celebrates a baby boy’s birth with joyful and exuberant music. The composer describes his song-cycle Country Matters as ‘poignant and riotously outrageous’. The Maggini Quartet are renowned for their authoritative interpretations of English chamber music, while tenor Mark Wilde also sings on several other Naxos recordings.
By Robert R. Reilly
Catholic News Agency
Ronald Corp (b. 1951)
String Quartet No. 1 ‘The Bustard’ • String Quartet No. 2 • Country Matters, for tenor and string trio
A dear friend of mine suffers from depression, and would acknowledge that her symptoms mean that she is classified as bi-polar. When her depression descends she is of course in the depths of despair and in the blackest of holes. During one of these periods of depression there was a particular thought which sparked some lightening of the trauma—the thought that a flock of bustards had flown over and were watching and taking care of her. Why the bustard and not some other bird?—Well, because it was the largest flying bird in the world, and a most imposing creature, stately and regal. Naomi—that is my friend’s name—had seen these birds on a website and had fallen in love with them, and fallen in love with the project which aimed to introduce them back to this country. They were farmed and eaten out of existence by our Victorian forebears, and now David and Karen Waters were trying to bring them back to their natural habitat on Salisbury Plain. From the fantasy of bustards flying over North London and being watchful of a depressed Naomi, now they were a reality and were flying around Salisbury Plain.
This is how I came to know about the bird, although as an amateur ornithologist I already knew what a bustard was. The stage was set to promote the bird through music, and I had the idea of writing a theme tune for bustards everywhere, perhaps to go on the bustard website! But my ambition grew and I knew that the string quartet I had planned to write for the Maggini Quartet should be dedicated to the bustard. My idea was to represent the bird and its characteristics in music, and the string quartet medium proved ideal for that. Something of the Elizabethan dance was suggested by the movement of the bustard as it walked on the ground, and the sight of the bustard in flight offered suitable inspiration for soaring melodies and rushing accompaniment figures.
My String Quartet No. 1 celebrates the bird itself and is a wonderful advert for the project to re-introduce the bustard to this country. It hopefully also offers solace to a marvellous woman who suffers depression and I trust that it also makes sense as a piece of music. The string quartet medium encourages composers to express themselves in a more intimate manner than is usual on the large symphonic canvas, and I have found that my inspiration (nudged by the bustard itself) has been very intense. The finished work is dedicated to the Bustard Project.
I have tried to avoid describing the bird in music, but have to admit that the opening of the first movement represents the bird ‘taking off’ as it begins to soar over Salisbury Plain. Once airborne, the music concerns itself with thematic argument and a number of themes are presented, some of which will become leitmotivs in subsequent movements. The whole movement nods in the direction of traditional sonata form. The second movement is an invocation of Salisbury Plain, perhaps at night, or at dusk. An element of folk-music pervades the landscape. The third movement is a scherzo and again represents the bird in flight. In the last movement I suggest the gait of the bird in the Elizabethan dance form of a galliard. The bustard has a most regal stance and appears, when moving, to be dancing an elaborate measure. The first main section of the movement represents this. Then follows a vigorous allegro section which uses a thematic sequence which occurs in all of the movements and which perhaps suggest a rustic, and less mannered, dance. The whole is rounded off by reference to music heard in the first movement.
I have composed a number of occasional instrumental pieces for friends over the years, but it was the première of my String Quartet No. 1 ‘The Bustard’ by the Maggini Quartet in the Wigmore Hall in 2008 which unlocked the gates to a new world of instrumental composition. The success of the first quartet presented me with two happy outcomes. The first was the realisation that I could express myself effectively in non-vocal music on a larger scale, and also the enthusiasm of the audience encouraged me straight away to write a ‘sister’ work—the present String Quartet No. 2 (untitled).
This quartet has a specific point of reference, the birth of a baby boy called Sacha, and the piece is dedicated to him (a birthday present). So inevitably an element of joy and exuberance informs the quicker movements of the quartet, while the slow movement is perhaps less serene. In fact a slightly abrasive chord sequence pervades this movement and reference is made to these chords in each of the other movements of the quartet. These chords are always brushed aside, so if they suggest a more anguished mood, they are never with us for long.
The first and last movements are built on recognisable motives which are put through their paces in the same way that the classical composers such as Haydn might have done. These outer movements also share material to give the piece a sense of unity. A broad theme which appears at the end of the first movement also makes its appearance at the end of the last movement where it naturally flows from the quicker note motif with which that movement had begun. The Scherzo is placed second and is a whirlwind in five-eight time, and is definitely a close relation to the Scherzo in the ‘Bustard’ Quartet (which was in six-eight).
This second String Quartet shares the overall sound world of Quartet No. 1 and that was intentional—there seemed so much more to say. But I can already hear the sound world of my String Quartet No. 3 which will be quite different.
My passion for composition began in my school years in Wells, Somerset, and I collaborated with a number of school colleagues including the poets Tony Peters, with whom I wrote a series of ‘rock operas’, and with Steve Mainwaring. I composed a number of song-cycles to Steve’s poetry, including a set for voice and violin which I first performed while an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford; I was the tenor soloist and the violinist was Wyn Davies, now a distinguished conductor. Country Matters also had its première at Oxford, in the Holywell Music Rooms on 17 November 1972, with the tenor Philip Cave. The seven poems are variously poignant and riotously outrageous and occasionally invoke the Somerset area around Wells in which Steve and I grew up.
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CORP, R.: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 / Country M...