09 April 2014

Following the Dean String Quartet 1

As musicians, none of us have really ventured into composition. It does seem odd that we spend all our time interpreting others' music and ideas. One of the questions that we constantly ask ourselves in rehearsals is "how did the composer intend this to sound?" The benefit of a living composer is obvious, but more than just asking Paul Dean what he means by a certain marking. I am following Paul through the development of his first string quartet. (A task which daunted Brahms, and can make even the most accomplished composer break out into a cold sweat.)

Through Paul's conversations I will glean an insight into what goes into putting pen to paper for his first string quartet and just how Paul is going to follow the footsteps of masters past. It is not often that we can get into a composer's head - so here's our chance!

Paul Dean
The Artistic Director’s Office, ANAM
4 February 2014
The first in a series of interviews with Paul Dean.
First published in Flinders Quartet: April update 2014

Paul says, “Martin Bresnick, an American New York based composer said, ‘Make sure when you leave on the journey you’ve got your bags packed.’ Have your sketches, have your ideas, have your structure.”

OK, I’m actually writing a string quartet. I’ve got the Richard Pollock dedication here; how much of a role is that going to have? Am I thinking five movements? At this stage am I thinking three movements with a prelude, an interlude and a postlude?

Before I start I’m going to listen to three quartets for 24 hours non-stop: Bartok’s second quartet, probably Haydn around Opus 50 and probably Beethoven Opus 131. I’m going to immerse myself, not to look for musical direction or ideas, but to take a bath in the texture and the colour and the sound world. The Bartok will make my composition language just go. I’ll learn so much more by listening to Bartok’s Second. It’s music of another world. It really intimidates me – in a good way. It’s music of another dimension. It’s like getting a dose of fertiliser.

Paul Dean, composer, Director of ANAM

I first took the first movement of the clarinet quintet I wrote for Dame Elizabeth, called Cruden Farm to Stuart Greenbaum, my Masters supervisor. The advice I got was, ‘you’ve got to learn to stretch it. Let things grow and develop’. I learned to just allow things to happen. Let the listener’s ear attune to what’s going on before that comes in or bring that in and let it settle. You get to 28 bars let’s hear the last ten of those again, not repeated, but there’s a sense that things are happening on a slower scale.

I’ve got a file on my laptop called, ‘String quartet crap’. I like the idea that you have a bank of ideas written down in words or written down in notes. This opening idea of the G# and the violin coming in on the A; what am I thinking? The G# and the A becomes the basic idea for the prelude. The G# thing may never appear but it’s opened the door. I needed to hear the start in my head.

Of course it’s going to change. When you’re thirty seconds into it you’re going to say, ‘I like this, I want this to change or I want this to move quicker.’

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