String Quartet No. 3 (2016)

Todmorden Town Hall

Three movements... triangular numbers... rhythmic interplay around figures-of-three...

The town of Todmorden is at the confluence of three valleys, at the meeting point of three roads to the three cities of Rochdale, Burnley, and Halifax; at the centre of and shaped by the three industrial transport routes: rail, road, and canal. The Town Hall, which straddles the old border of Yorkshire and Lancashire, is notable for the three empty plinths adorning the magnificent frontage.

In many ways, therefore, this String Quartet is a portrait of Todmorden: not as the town exists today, for who can create an accurate portrait of a town in music? But as an illustration of the shaping forces of a town as it evolves in three eras: from pre-industrial anonymity, to an industrial hey-day, and then to the present post-industrial era and a future yet to be written.

  • 1. Andante — Allegro — Adagio
  • 2. Lento, ma con moto
  • 3. Allegro, con anima

Programme note

The following programme note was written for the world premiere, a concert made possible through the generosity and support of Todmorden Town Council and the Town Mayor, Cllr Anthony Greenwood JP.

Born in London, Tim Benjamin moved to Todmorden with his family in 2009, a move which seems to have served as a great motivation in the creation of new music, particularly in the field of contemporary opera. Having completed no fewer than ten such works, Benjamin has become a well-known figure in the field, for his distinctive and engaging approach to words and staging as much as for his music. He is a composer of more than opera, however, writing for film and TV as well as producing a wide variety of electronic, vocal, and chamber music, including three substantial string quartets.

His String Quartet No. 3 was commissioned by Todmorden Town Council following the success of the three impressive operas that Benjamin has brought to Todmorden since 2013, of which two were world premieres that went on to tour nationally.

The number three pervades the String Quartet. Links with this number (and of course, we note the fact that it is Benjamin’s third string quartet) are found scattered throughout the music. Most obviously, there are three movements; within those movements, there are frequently rhythms constructed from little triplets. Music in triple time (three beats to a bar) features prominently, as does music in compound time (dividing each beat into three, rather than two). More subtly, there are groups of “triangular numbers” at play – that is, numbers obtained from the sum of contiguous natural numbers, such as 6 (i.e., 1 + 2 + 3), 10, 15, and so on.

But why the obsession with this number? Why create an entire, large-scale piece of music from such an esoteric set of ingredients? The answer is in the connection between the inner world of the music and the real, outer world in which we live and in which the world premiere of the work takes place, specifically, the town of Todmorden.

The town of Todmorden is at the confluence of three valleys, at the meeting point of three roads to the three cities of Rochdale, Burnley, and Halifax; at the centre of and shaped by the three industrial transport routes: rail, road, and canal. The Town Hall, which straddles the old border of Yorkshire and Lancashire, is notable for the three empty plinths adorning the magnificent frontage, and the number three is reflected even in the trisyllabic name of the town and its curious etymology.

In many ways, therefore, Benjamin’s String Quartet No. 3 is designed as a portrait of the town — not as it exists today, for who can create an accurate portrait of a town in music? — but as an illustration of the shaping forces of a town as it evolves in three eras: from pre-industrial anonymity, to an industrial hey-day, and then to the present post-industrial era and a future yet to be written.

Premiere

18th June 2016, at Todmorden Town Hall, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, performed by The Ligeti Quartet.

Duration

25 minutes

Instrumentation

String quartet

Commissioned by

This String Quartet No. 3 was commissioned by Todmorden Town Council.

Recording

A live recording of the world premiere, given by The Ligeti Quartet.

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