Asked to sum up how he would characterize his two String Quartets - written in a neoclassical style and influenced by the sound world of Bruckner and Schoenberg - Michael Finnissy answered, ‘rich and chewy’!
In 2011 Michael Finnissy created a daring new interpretation of Mozart's Requiem. To influence his completion of the parts left missing after the 18th century composer’s death he said "I imagined Mozart in the present day, working to complete the Requiem, looking back across the centuries which have passed since his death. I asked myself what composers, musical genres and historical events would have influenced him since 1791– this helped to shape my work.”
Composer Judith Weir says she regards Finnissy as the most important living British composer.
Despite having no score (the piece is a series of parts, each prefaced by the instruction that it is 'intended that parts should drift slightly apart') Michael Finnissy's Second Quartet is 'based on a compact Haydn model' - originally intended to be the 'Lark', Op.64, No.5 - and traces of its antecedent can be discerned within it. By contrast, the Third Quartet incorporates actual birdsong, both transcribed and recorded, in the composer's response to the natural world and our place in it: the instruments gradually fade out, to leave only the sound of birds.
Second String Quartet
Third String Quartet
Michael Finnissy: String Quartet No. 3
String Quartet No. 3
16th February 2012
“The agile spirit of Haydn certainly seems to pervade the whole of the Second Quartet, but the Third is a much stranger work. There are allusions to Bruckner's First and Second Symphonies in its massive, densely layered opening paragraphs, but gradually that highly wrought string writing gives way to something totally unexpected: first to music that incorporates transcriptions of birdsong, and then to recordings of the birdsongs themselves”
“He's motivated by magnifying the string quartet from the inside, broadening the form by re-examining the medium...this new piece takes the string quartet out of itself - and indeed beyond music - with a bold and wholly unexpected sleight-of-hand.”
“Finnissy ultimately transcends the quartet genre...At times, too, you can hear the influence of Haydn, as if through frosted glass, notably in the impish pizzicato passage about a third of the way through.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.