2008 MANITOU for string quartet

MANITOU for string quartet (2008) was written at the request of the Mondriaan Quartet.

Man-i-tou is an American Indian name for the ‘Great Spirit’. A supernatural force believed by the Algonquian peoples to exist within both living beings and inanimate objects. It may represent good as well as evil and can be influenced by invocation and ritual.

In the subtitles of its three movements the dual aspects of the Manitou have been given a poetic alternative:

1. Mining-undermining – this is what artists do: digging deep but in the process acknowledging the fragility of the soil after they surface with the goods.

2. Version-subversion, also including rogation-abrogation – subverting a version of what we invent and abrogating a rogation we intone reflects the the transitory substance of art and belief. The rogation in question is from the litany of all saints (in Gregorian chant); the abrogation is the subversive response from the atheist.

3. Entendre-double entendre – not only do we have to listen again but also to make sense of the ambiguities inherent in any language, especially when languages collide.

Here is a brief introduction to each movement.

I. The whole first movement in its embryonic state is contained in the first six bars. Every next section is a further stage in its development and elaborates on every aspect of the first section. The theme is ‘growth’.

II. More or less along the same growth principle, each section now consistently follows the same formula: breaking out of unison, developing into a flourish, and settling into a cadenza, with a pizzicato section trying – and eventually managing – to subvert the rule by ultimately becoming the cadenza itself.

III. This movement is inspired entirely by the slow movement in Schubert’s string quintet, which he wrote just before the end of his short but bewilderinly prolific life, and which is the one piece of music that I would take to my desert island if I were allowed only a single choice. By trying to merge his music with my own I came across some interesting ambiguities. These emerged not least after a suggestion from Jan Erik van Regteren Altena, the quartet’s first violinist and leader, which encouraged me to try and give the whole piece a coherent overall architecture by integrating the music of the previous movements inside the ‘Schubert cauldron’, as it were. The process reaches a degree of sublimation in the last bars where Vriend and Schubert coalesce in an almost perfect amalgam…