Ronald Corp

Conductor & Composer

String Quartet No.1 ‘The Bustard’


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Programme Notes

String Quartet No.1 ‘The Bustard’
commissioned by Peter and Naomi Lobbenberg

Mesto semplice
Scherzo vivo
Moderato assai; Piu allegro non troppo; Allegro vivace

A dear friend of mine suffers from severe clinical depression, and would acknowledge that her symptoms mean that she is classified as bi-polar. When her depression descends she is of course in the depths of despair and in the blackest of holes. During one of these periods there was a particular thought which sparked some lightening of the trauma – the happy notion that an unruly flock of Great Bustards had inhabited her living room, where they were holding wild and messy parties overnight, but at the same time watching and taking care of her. Why the Great Bustard and not some other bird? – well because it was the heaviest flying bird in the world, and a most imposing creature, stately and regal. Naomi – that is my friend’s name – had fallen in love with these beautiful birds which our Victorian forebears had shot and banqueted out of existence, after seeing a photograph and newspaper article about the project to reintroduce them to their natural habitat on Salisbury Plain. As she began to recover, she and her husband felt they owed the bustard a debt of gratitude, and became active supporters of the project and of David and Karen Waters who have made it their lifetime commitment. From the fantasy of bustards raving it up in a north London house and being watchful over a depressed Naomi, now they were a reality and were flying around Salisbury Plain.

This is how I came to know about the bird, although as an amateur ornithologist I already knew what a Great Bustard was.
The stage was set to promote the bird through music, and I had the idea of writing a theme tune for bustards everywhere, perhaps to go on the bustard website! But my ambition grew and I knew that the string quartet I had planned to write for the Maggini Quartet should be dedicated to the bustard. My idea was to represent the bird, its characteristics in music, and the string quartet medium proved ideal for that. Something of the Elizabethan dance was suggested by the movement of the bustard as it walked on the ground, and the magnificent sight of the bustard in flight offered suitable inspiration for soaring melodies and rushing accompaniment figures.

My string quartet (no. 1) celebrates the bird itself and is a wonderful advert for the project to reintroduce the bustard to this country. It hopefully also offers solace to a marvellous woman who suffers depression and I trust that it also makes sense as a piece of music! The string quartet medium encourages composers to express themselves in a more intimate manner than is usual on the large symphonic canvas, and I have found that my inspiration (nudged by the bustard itself) has been very intense. The finished work is dedicated to the Great Bustard Project.

The work is in the traditional four movements.  I have tried to avoid describing the bird in music, but have to admit that the opening of the first movement represents the bird ‘taking off’ as it begins to soar over Salisbury Plain. Once airborne, the music concerns itself with thematic argument and a number of themes are presented, some of which will become leitmotivs in subsequent movements. The whole movement nods in the direction of traditional sonata form.

The second movement is an invocation of Salisbury Plain, perhaps at night, or at dusk.  An element of folk music pervades the landscape.
The third movement is a scherzo and again represents the bird in flight.

In the last movement I suggest the gait of the bird in the Elizabethan dance form of a ‘galliard’. The bustard had a most regal stance and appears, when moving, to be dancing an elaborate measure. The first main section of the movement represents this. Then follows a vigorous allegro section which uses a thematic sequence which occurs in all of the movements and which perhaps suggest a rustic, and less mannered, dance. The whole is rounded off by reference to music heard in the first movement.

© Ronald Corp 2007