Stephen Johnson (b. 1955):

String Quartet

  1. Allegretto cantabile – Più allegro – Allegretto cantabile –
  2. Presto –
  3. Adagio –
  4. Allegro

The wonderful intimate, almost conversational dialogue of Joseph Haydn’s Quartets was a model for my own String Quartet. Throughout the four linked movements the four instruments are constantly bouncing ideas off each other, shadowing each other, responding to one another tenderly, violently, playfully, sometimes mockingly. As in the quartets of Beethoven and Shostakovich the listener may sense that the dialogue is happening not ‘out there’ in the real world, but in some private inner space – a space in which one can confront personal truths, and in the process perhaps find strength and a renewed sense of purpose.

In my case, it was the need to come to terms with loss, re-examine memories, and in so doing find a way to let go of painful attachments, that set me thinking of writing a string quartet. To my astonishment and delight I found that the ideas had a momentum of their own, leading though wistful, energetic and impassioned dance music (first movement) through caustic, black humour (Presto) to the desolate, elegiac Adagio third movement. From that desolation however something new arises: another dance movement, building eventually to an exultant, defiant, still dancing conclusion.


Stephen Johnson

Photo credit: Hayden Williams

And now the gloriously coloured, luminous course of the Elbe dazzles the three onlookers. The nocturnal river draws from the girl a soft cry of longing. What could she be thinking of? From a bouquet which she has brought with her she takes a dark, blooming rose and throws it into the glittering water. How sadly her eyes shine at that moment. It is as though the young woman has cast away a lifelong agonising struggle, for ever. It is very painful, having to bid farewell to something that has tormented you. And how silent the world is.

Excerpt from A Balloon Journey by Robert Walser

Warwick Arts Centre, 11 November 2021
Brodsky Quartet

Interview with Stephen Johnson