Composer Spotlight: Matthew Browne - String Quartet no. 1, "A Penumbral Eclipse"
It has been an incredible journey for the VQ these last few months, as we connect with composers from all over the world. If there's one thing we've learned from this year's competition, it's that new music for String Quartet is alive and thriving, and composers are fervently creating new works that provide a voice for the genre. Here we are with the new batch of 2014 semifinalists, all of whom have participated in the VQ New Works Competition. We are thrilled to be playing their music.
The biggest impact we felt when reading these works was learning about the musical personalities from each composer. These days, it's easy to glean insights into personalities of the great composers from the works themselves: Beethoven's Grosse Fugue reveals a master composer who, late in his life, knew how to push the boundaries of string quartet and wasn't afraid to do it; Elgar's String Quartet in E minor, shows a more intimate and wistful Elgar who is different from the public "Pomp and Circumstance" persona he came to be known for.
Coming across Matthew Browne's work, String Quartet no. 1 "A Penumbral Eclipse," we were intrigued by the various sources of inspiration he used for this work. Remembering an experience he had while watching a total lunar eclipse, Matthew's thoughts focused on shadows - the "grey areas" - we often overlook in our lives. Taking his inspiration from the penumbra - the moment in an eclipse either just before complete darkness or complete illumination, Matthew's quartet explores how we tend to cast these shadowy moments aside and instead use black and white moments in our lives to define our purpose.
The fourth movement, "Horror Vacui" ("a fear of empty spaces") is a brilliant use of two musical elements - a fugue, and a tongue-in-cheek syncopated melody in the manner of Scott Joplin and American ragtime. As the movement progresses, the quartet creates a range of different textures and sounds which fluctuate between these two elements. Near the end it becomes clear how the satirical melody resolves, before the quartet erupts into a volcano of manic tremolo. As Matthew explains, "satire" was the key to this movement, and the fugue is served to the listener with a wide sardonic grin.
Matthew is a DMA Composition candidate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, studying with Kristin Kuster and Michael Daugherty. His previous awards include the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and the Maurice Gardner Composition Award from the American Viola Society.
Matthew Browne, String Quartet no. 1 "A Penumbral Eclipse"
Where are you from?
From Monument, Colorado. Currently live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
What got you interested in composition?
I got interested in composition mainly from playing saxophone in my high school band, as well as having an affinity for film music. I decided to start writing music after watching the “Rite of Spring” sequence in the film “Fantasia” for the hundredth time, something finally just clicked.
Who have been your biggest musical influences?
I have many musical influences, and they change constantly. I generally get excited (and a little obsessed) about whatever I am listening to at the moment. To name a few influences: György Ligeti, Alfred Schnittke, John Corigliano, Stravinsky, The Beatles, Queen, Buddy Rich, and Frank Zappa.
What are some challenges or advantages when writing for string quartet?
Some advantages of writing for string quartet are that it is a very well established ensemble with an immense and diverse repertoire to learn from. It has been the “go to” chamber ensemble for composers to write for for hundreds of years. This is also the challenge for writing for string quartet, I think. Because there are so many fantastic and diverse pieces for the ensemble, it is very difficult to make your mark on the genre, to really do something new and unique.
Anything else you wish to say about your piece String Quartet no. 1 "A Penumbral Eclipse"?
This piece was written for and in collaboration with the Tesla String Quartet. I’d like to thank them for their input and suggestions, many of which make the piece what it is.
The Villiers Quartet will perform Matthew Browne's String Quartet no. 1 "A Penumbral Eclipse" for the VQ New Works Competition Final Round. Purchase tickets at http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/music/vq-new-works-competition-2014
Matthew Browne's website: www.matthewbrownecomposer.com