List of Works » Chamber Works » Dances for Oskar

Dances for Oskar by DAVID BRUCE

Instrumentation String Quartet
Duration15 mins
World PremiereHeath Quartet, Lake District Summer Music Festival, Kendal Town Hall, 6th Aug 2008
CommissionCommissioned by Lake District Summer Music Festival
ComposedMay 2008

Dances for Oskar, 1st Movement, Heath Quartet, Kendal Town Hall, 6th Aug 08

Dances for Oskar, 2nd Movement, Heath Quartet, Kendal Town Hall, 6th Aug 08

Programme Note

There’s a sort of parable I like to tell about the Czech composer Antonín Dvorák. Dvorák spent much of his composing-life in awe of Brahms, and wrote many pieces imitating and trying to match Brahms’s earnestness and intellectual rigour – his ‘Greatness’. Sometimes though, he would allow himself to write in a simpler more relaxed style, often influenced by folk music, and it is in these easier-going pieces – like, say, the ‘American’ String Quartet that Dvorák found his true voice and created some of his most original and enduring compositions.

In today’s world composers are, I think, unduly obsessed with being ‘Great’, and the String Quartet as a medium in particular carries a heavy burden of being the medium in which the greatest of Great music is written - where a composer’s finest thoughts are condensed and crystalized into perfection. Ambition of thought if for me one of the distinguishing characteristics of classical music, but weighty ideas and thoughts of greatness can sometimes crush the creative spirit and indeed it is probably for this reason that I spent many years avoiding the String Quartet medium altogether.

When the commission for this piece came through, I knew I had no choice but to face the issue straight on, and the Dvorák story served as a useful warning. I decided in fact, not to think of the piece as a ‘String Quartet’ in the Beethoven sense, but as a series of dances which happen to be for four string instruments, rather like a Baroque suite. (In fact, coincidentally, the last of my dances contains elements of the rhythms of the Gigue, usually the last movement of a Baroque dance suite). It may sound silly, but thinking of the piece in this way did indeed free me up creatively - this is a piece which doesn’t try to sum up the current state of philosophy in music, it's just a series of straight-forward pieces of pure 'music for music’s sake'. The kind that Dvorák ought to have written more of.

As it turned out, I finished the dances on the day of my son Oskar’s second birthday, so it seemed like a good idea to honour him in the work’s title.

David Bruce

St Albans, May 22nd 2008

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