John Blackwood McEwen
String Quartet No.4 in c minor
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.
In many ways, McEwen’s Fourth String Quartet in c minor, which dates from 1905, is his most daring. In the very lyrical and at times rhapsodic first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, his use of polyphony anticipates Bartok by two decades. The second movement, Vivace which serves as a scherzo, recalls the finale of Beethoven’s Op.127 Quartet, only in a far more agitated setting. The final two movements are very Scottish in character. First comes a highly chromatic Andante espressivo which is a kind of sad shepherd’s lament. The finale, Larghetto-Vivace, begins with a pregnant, slow introduction which leads to a high-spirited romp. Writing in his Handbook for String Quartet Players, Wilhelm Altmann hails the quartet as noteworthy and recommends for concert performance and to experienced amateur players.
This is a highly original sounding quartet which deserves performance in the concert hall but as Altmann notes should be attractive to experienced amateurs.
Parts & Score: $31.95