Quatuor des Timbres

For an ensemble of mixed timbres

from I. Four Necessary Chorales

Quatuor des Timbres
(A Quartet of Timbres) was written between 20 May and 17 June 2002. In this short period a number of major technical innovations developed which have laid the foundations for the series of orchestral music
Instrumentarium Novum begun in 2003. The objective of Quatuor des Timbres was to investigate different and formal ways an ensemble of instruments of different timbres might interact with one another within particular musical situations. The music looks backwards to devices from the Renaissance (vocal and instrumental setting of a Psalm text) and the Baroque (chorales); performance instructions are kept to a minimum, and any that are present should be considered as a guide, no more. The music looks forward in unique ‘playful’ open-form structures that develop from algorithmic computation modeling the activity and density of sound within an ensemble of instruments across time.

In the 2nd and 3rd movements two contemporary models are acknowledged: Milton Babbitt’s graphic notation applied to the initial structuring of his early Composition for Four Instruments; Morton Feldman’s score of IXION in which graphic structuring of activity is extended to include the density of sound attacks.

Extract from Feldman’s IXION

The quartet is devised for an ensemble of diverse or mixed timbres. In this published version an ensemble of soprano sax in Bb, bass trombone, violoncello and tuned percussion is imagined. There exists a parallel version for flute, tenor saxophone in Bb, double bass and synthesiser realised for members of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. For professional ensembles the composer is willing to undertake re-orchestrations or provide the basic data files to enable performers to undertake orchestrations themselves. More than four instruments may be scored.
In the rehearsals for the initial performances of this work musicians from the BBCNOW, although at first reluctant to devise their own dynamic schemes, articulations and tempos, brought to the work a wealth of ideas and invention: the flautist adopted oriental inflections (as well as using piccolo and alto flute), the sax player employed jazz timbres and ornaments, the bassist brought into play many rich timbral colours, and the keyboard player made extensive use of different voices, modulation and pitch bend.

from III. Jeux Diurnes


Study score [pdf]

Parts [zip]

Annotated Symbolic Composer code [pdf]

Reference Recordings – Movement I [mp3]
Movement II [mp3]
Movement III [mp3]
Movement IV [mp3]