the need fire (2012)
Commissioned by the Pound Arts Trust for the Corsham Festival. First performance by the Hillman Quartet at Hartham Church, Wiltshire on the 19th. October 2012
Need-fire, or Wild-fire (Ger. Notfeuer, O. Ger. nodfyr, Scottish Gaelic tein’-éigin), a term used in folklore to denote a curious superstition which survived in the Scottish Highlands until a recent date. Like the fire-churning still customary in India for kindling the sacrificial fire, the need- or wild-fire is made by the friction of one piece of wood on another, or of a rope upon a stake. Need-fire is a practice of shepherd peoples to ward off disease from their herds and flocks. It is kindled on occasions of special distress, particularly at the outbreak of a murrain, and the cattle are driven through it. Its efficacy is believed to depend on all other fires being extinguished.
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the need-fire develops material from the work that preceded it; worship of the oak, for piano trio. This follows on from a compositional trend that can be traced back over many years but more particularly relates to a series of works that developed from material first notated in repeat offenders, for bass clarinet duo (2003), and more recently, music for ERIS (2010), Prorrhesis for trombone and two bass drums (2011), ‘on a theme of Hermes’ (2011), crowded rooms (2011), TLOS (2011), worship of the oak (2011), and most recently, the need-fire. In the need-fire, material from the violin and cello lines within worship of the oak are developed much further; they have been taken on an entirely new journey and given the potential to expand and grow. Quarter tones, especially in the central section of the quartet remain a feature, but throughout, new ideas and gestures have become part of the fabric of the music, both as compositional material and expressive devices. I am referring in particular to the abundant glissandi among all the string parts that far from being used as an effect, become the very material itself, giving the quartet its gestural identity and emotional heart.
The title the need-fire caught my imagination, not because of any programmatic or actual relationship to the music which is entirely abstract, but because the ritual cleansing and stress around the need-fire ritual somehow captured the turbulance and intensity of this work; in my imagination at least, it felt appropriate.
the need-fire is string quartet no.1
Marc Yeats February 2012