John Blackwood McEwen
String Quartet No.2 in a minor
"In 1903 McEwen's noteworthy Second String Quartet appeared. It is in no way difficult to play. The main theme of the first movement, Allegro marcato, dominated by its rhythm but the melody is quite ingratiating. A second and more lyrical subject has an elegiac quality and stands out by virtue of its chromatic coloring. It is followed by yet another impressive theme. The main subject of the second movement, Andante quasi adagio, resembles a Siciliano in style. Again, the melody is impressive. The thematic material of third movement, Vivace, especially the main theme and the trio section, are clearly Scottish. An Allegro vivace with its clever writing and appealing melodies tops off this work." ---Wilhelm Altmann writing in his Handbook for String Quartet Players.
John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948) was born in the Scottish border town of Hawick. He studied at the University of Glasgow and the Royal Academy of Music. He later became a professor at the Academy and then its principal. He was a co-founder of the British Society of Composers (1905) and himself composed in most genres, with the string quartet being central to his oeuvre. He composed 19 of them. During his lifetime, he was considered one of Britain's leading composers and a pioneer in many aspects. The famous chamber music scholar Wilhelm Altmann, writing in his Handbook for String Quartet Players, praises McEwen as a very solid composer and recommends his string quartets. That McEwen's works did not become better known was in part due to the fact that he did very little to promote them. Many treasures await players and listeners alike.
This Quartet, which dates from 1898, is sure to be a success in the concert hall but as Altmann notes should be attractive to amateurs as well since it presents no unusual technical problems.