A piece in four weeks by Neil Thomas Smith

15 Nov 2014


Considering the last piece I wrote took three years from conception to completion, the challenge set by Red Note to write a string quartet in four weeks was not to be taken lightly. Yet, with the prospect of a performance so close at hand it was not hard to feel motivated to write and, in the end, making the piece ‘long enough’ was not the major challenge.

What really did change in this situation was how much time I had to reconsider what I had written. There were few moments to tinker significantly with a day’s work due to the constant pressure to push on. In many ways this was quite liberating as it gave more a flow to the composition process and, therefore, a greater sense of the piece as one uninterrupted narrative.

What this experience brought home to me most of all, however, is that there are many ways of starting a piece. This quartet is a work I have wanted to write for some time, even though I had written no sentence describing it, nor penned any sketches. I knew, however, there were two aspects of a previous piece (Waldwege for three cellos http://www.ntsmusic.co.uk/NTS_Music/LOOK.html ) I wanted to take further and that a string quartet would be a great medium to achieve this goal.

Therefore, many important aspects of the piece were already present somewhere in the back of my mind. Were this not the case, the whole process would have been far more difficult. Starting the work ‘from nothing’ with four weeks to play with would have been quite a different experience.

It is always difficult to match this tendency to imagine pieces I would like to write in an ideal world with the actual opportunities that present themselves. Usually I begin with the blank slate rather than the firm idea. Occasionally, however, as with this Red Note weekend, the two come together and these are happy occasions indeed.