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First performances for Alexander Goehr’s String Quartet No. 5 “Vision of the Soldier Er”

Jun. 01, 2019

First performances for Alexander Goehr’s <em>String Quartet No. 5 “Vision of the Soldier Er”</em>

On June 7, the Villiers String Quartet gave the world premiere performance of Alexander Goehr's String Quartet No. 5 "Vision of the Soldier Er" at the Swaledale Festival. The premiere was part of a program that included string quartets by Mozart and Dvořák, and performed by “one of the most charismatic and adventurous quartets on the British chamber music scene” (The Strad). Goehr's new quartet comes after a break of almost thirty years since the completion of his fourth quartet. The new quartet is inspired by the myth of Er, a legend that concludes Plato’s influential philosophical text The Republic. In his program note for the work, Goehr remarks about how it was an imagined vision of the planets titanic movement circling the earth that inspired the work’s soundworld. Goehr notes:

"Initially I was taken by the image of the planets, circling the earth each with a siren sounding a single note. I tried to imagine what this might sound like all together. In the fourth movement of my quartet “I beheld light beams fastened like a ship’s under girders,” I tried to portray (in microcosm!) the eternal image, taking a six-part mechanical canon by Messiaen as a point of departure." 

On June 8, in a mini-festival at Oxford University dedicated to Alexander Goehr and his student Martyn Harry, the Villiers String Quartet performed Goehr's new String Quartet No. 5 once again, in addition to his Quintet for Clarinet and Strings. Based on a contrapuntal elaboration of a single motif, the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings is an intense and gripping composition. Alexander Goehr was partly inspired by listening to the polyphonic masses of Josquin Desprez and Ockeghem when composing this work.

Listen to Alexander Goehr's Concerto for piano and orchestra (1972) here:

(Concerto for Piano and Orchestra/Alexander Goehr/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/
Daniel Barenboim, piano/Lawrence Foster, conductor)

For more information about Alexander Goehr, please visit:

Alexander Goehr
String Quartet No. 5 "Vision of the Soldier Er" (2019)
for string quartet

Quintet for Clarinet and Strings (2007)
for clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello