The quartet was originally envisaged as having three movements, but a pressing deadline brought about its final two-movement form, the pair being related by mirror technique. The bar-lengths of the second movement mirror those of the first movement (in other words, read in reverse order, those in the first movement being always 1/8 more in value). Frequent double bar-lines in both movements demarcate short sections in which the bar-lengths are also symmetrical. A parenthesis in this metrical retrograde-relationship occurs between bb. 59–102 of the second movement, where Ferneyhough introduces so-called irrational bar-lengths for the only time in the entire work (each irrational bar-length represents a proportionally faster metre than the ‘standard’ 1/8, designated 1/10 and 1/12, and so on).
Although there is no mirror of this ‘irrational’ section in the first movement, symmetries abound in all the work’s parameters. For the first movement, Ferneyhough conceives 23 distinctive texture-types, ordering their first and subsequent appearances according to a pre-composed scheme. This scheme is reversed at b. 60 in the first movement (approximately two-thirds of the way through the movement) and in addition, Ferneyhough substitutes texture-type 1 for type 23, and type 2 for type 22, and so on. Having set out types 1–13 in the first 14 bars of the work, the final five bars of the movement therefore contain types 11–23 in concentrated form, the result of a progressive tendency towards encrustation and ‘stretto’ of the texture-
types after b. 60. The composer treats the material in the second movement differently: linear processes (as opposed to the layered accretion of texture-types in the first movement) unfurl as material is transformed and distorted. A distinctive example is found at b. 4: the rapid, regular triplet figure with a compressed registral range occurs repeatedly in violin II, but is soon adopted by other instruments, its register and ‘colour’ extended with harmonics and other articulational devices (it reappears in violin I, b. 14; violin II, bb. 17 and 21; violin I and II, bb. 25–26; viola, bb. 28–29; and all instruments, bb. 39–42). Ferneyhough arranges the movement in sections (indicated by tempo changes) in slow–fast pairs punctuated by soloistic interludes….. The interventional passage from b. 59 (‘molto ritmico’) is referred to as ‘scherzo’ in the sketches, and there, the proportional relationships between the irrational bar-lengths create a sense of speed changes where none is in fact indicated by a tempo change in this passage. (Lois Fitch)
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