Chamber music for strings was written in 1969, when I was a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. It is scored for string sextet, double bass and harp, and was first performed at the Academy that year (under its original title, Octet) by a student ensemble led by my friend Christopher Rowland. In 1970 I entered the piece for a BBC Composers’ competition, in which it reached the final round (where it was played at Lancaster University and later broadcast on Radio 3) but was pipped at the post by several other pieces – including an oboe quartet by my cousin Nicola LeFanu.
The piece is one continuous movement, lasting fourteen minutes, and is in simple ternary form. A slow introduction, which features rising glissandi, gradually accelerates and becomes more dynamic and thematically more detailed, and leads to a rhythmically sprung quick movement whose gestures and harmonic register owe much to the influence of Tippett, and also that of Nicholas Maw, who was my teacher at the time. This quicker music builds to a brief climax, after which the music of the opening returns to bring the piece to a quiet close.
Giles Swayne 2008