President: Mary Alwyn
Patron: Vilem Tausky CBE

Doreen Carwithen (b. 1922)

Cover Painting: Portrait of Doreen Carwithen by William Alwyn


String Quartet No.1 20:16
ii Lento 7:21
iii Allegro 6:32

String Quartet No.2

I Adagio 9:46
ii Allegro 10:06
Sonata for Violin and Piano 19:47
I Allegro con moto 7:45
II Vivace 5:10
Ill Moderato 6:47

TT 60:12

Lydia Mordkovitch violin Julian Milford piano
Sorrel Quartet
Gina McCormack violin
Catherine Yates violin
Vicci Wardman viola
Helen Thatcher cello

Daily Telegraph Classical CD of the week Jan 31st 1997

For fifty-one years Clements, a London painter who loved music, ran Sunday concerts during the winter at the South Place Institute, Moorgate. When he died in 1938 a prize of £20 was awarded each year in his memory. For my First String Quartet, written in 1945 when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, I shared the prize with a Canadian composer.

The Quartet was first played at a chamber concert given at the R.A.M. by the Zorian Quartet, and Vaughan Williams was in the audience. He chatted to me and was most complimentary about the work - except for the coda where I had used seven bars of ponticello. This he disliked - 'nasty noise', he said! Other performances followed, including one at a South Place Sunday concert, one for the Society for the Promotion of New Music and a broadcast in a 'New Music' programme on the Third Programme by the Aleph Quartet. The same players later broadcast my Second String Quartet in the same series.

Quartet No.1 is classical in style and form. The first movement, allegro moderoto, is quite adventurous harmonically - I do rather like dissonances! The slow movement, in a minor key, has frequent changes of tonality. Here a fugal passage leads up to the big,  fortissimo unison climax, after which there is a gradual fading to the return of the cello subject under unison high violins which descend to an echo on the first violin against tremelo lower strings. The third movement is a sprightly dance over syncopated lower strings. Rapid key changes lead to a quiet, shortened recapitulation. This in turn quietens and slows to a bar of silence. The first seven bars of the Presto coda are played rhythmically, pianissimo and ponticello. All in unison bring the music to a final D major chord.

I played the cello in a quartet at home, where we explored most of the classical works of Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven and the Schubert A minor Quartet. As a student in the Royal Academy chamber music class I played second cello in the great Schubert Quintet. This cello playing taught me that the lower strings - viola and cello in particular - can be used most expressively, so much of my writing includes long, flowing melodies, using the whole range of the instrument. The cello is particularly telling in its upper register, where it has its own special quality of sound. So my Quartets really use all the instruments equally - not just a tune on the violin and a rather dull accompaniment from the rest!

W.W. Cobbett (1847-1937) was an amateur violinist and a keen enthusiast of chamber music. He devoted himself to the encouragement of new works and offered prizes and commissions to British composers for single-movement pieces - without conditions as to the form to be employed. On the advice of the Musicians' Company these were frequently called 'Phantasy Quartets'.

My Second Quartet, which received a Cobbett prize, is written in two extended movements. It begins on the viola, using a minor second, and it is this interval which is used throughout the first movement, sometimes inverted making a major seventh. The movement begins molto adagio and is mostly sombre in mood. It grows to an intense middle section, broadening to a tune in thirds played high on the A string by the two violins, then, gradually quietening, there is a return to the original tempo, with the viola playing the initial theme pizzicato. After much pondering during which it slowly sinks in G flat major on a pedal point, the movement resolves itself in a major key.

The Allegro movement uses a busy semiquaver pattern, tossed around among the instruments with much syncopation until a long trill on the viola leads to a broad tune accompanied by major sevenths. This descends to a minor second on cello and second violin to accompany the first violin's extended tune. A quasi cadenza for the first violin, over harp-like accompaniment gradually fades and the music returns to the original tempo with much bravado. This is not an exact repeat but an extended development which gradually fades to F minor and a coda based on the first movement until the viola plays again the opening minor second and is joined by the rest of the quartet in unison.

The Violin Sonata is a later work than the Quartets - the exact date I do not remember and there is no indication on the score. It is in three movements, but these are not in the usual pattern of moderato, slow, vivace and do not follow a strictly sonata-form structure either. The whole work is full of virtuoso writing for both instruments and is brilliantly played on this recording.

The opening movement allegro con moto is characterized by the drop of a major second, and has broad, sweeping melodies with a passionate middle section. This is followed by a vivace 9/8 pattern which never relinquishes its tremendous pace. There is a long tune over the insistent rhythm played alternately by the two players, then a return to the opening, finally finishing with the solo violin diminuendo to ppp and a pizzicato chord.

The last movement moderato, or almost lento, introduces a broad tune low on the violin over sonorous chords. A change of key and a quaver pattern becomes piuł agitoto. This leads to a passionate climax sinking to a trickle of triplets accompanying a high tune on the muted violin. A nine-bar cadenza leads to the early theme of dropping seconds on the piano, and the violin takes the music to a pianissimo ending.

To answer the enquiries about my unusual surname: No! I did not invent it, as one person suggestedl I am descended from an old Devonshire family, whose ancestors date back to the early 14OOs. I am delighted to find that I am not the last Carwithen, but have a vastly extended family, proved by the various family trees which have been sent to me from branches of the family in this country and from America.

© 1998 Doreen Carwithen

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