My Early Life

This is the first review of my music to appear in print. It was written by Ernest Bradbury (what an excellent name for a music critic) of the Yorkshire Evening Post and published on 5 March 1982.

The String Quartet No. 1 was the first of my compositions to receive a public performance, i.e. before an audience of paying punters.

I first heard the piece played by the Fitzwilliam Quartet (with the original personnel of the late Christopher Rowland, Jonathan Sparey, Alan George and Ioan Davies) in a composers’ workshop at York University in 1982. My favourite participant in these composers’ workshops was Roland Perrin, who always asked the same question:

“How did you derive your pitch material?”

The title of the piece certainly suggested that there would be more quartets to follow, but after 28 years I still haven’t composed String Quartet No. 2. How idle is that?

Leeds University Clothworkers’ Hall; Leodian Quartet

Last night’s concert was arranged around the winning entry in the string quartet competition held in connection with the present Leeds 20th Century Music Festival. This was Robin Gosnall’s String Quartet No. 1, a lightly atmospheric, skilfully written piece of some immediate appeal.

Gosnall is a student at York University, and it is no bad thing when a young composer acknowledges the influence of an older master: in this instance, Alban Berg.

It might be remembered that Benjamin Britten wanted, in his student days, to use his RCM scholarship to study with Berg in Vienna. The authorities of the day turned down so outrageous a suggestion.

Nowadays it seems, and happily, a young creator of music may be trusted to choose his own priorities; and Gosnall’s note on his first essay in this medium drew attention to Berg’s music in general, and in this particular work the soundworld of the Op. 3 quartet and the “Lyric Suite”.

It has, nonetheless, expression of its own. Gosnall is no mere imitator. Maybe he won the competition because of this overt conservatism, which may be regarded at this stage as merely the starting point of much more originality.

Not as short-breathed as works by Webern, it is even so a compressed, easily assimilable work, neatly working out its basic ideas in the space of two thematically linked movements – each with a slow, then fast, section – lasting little more than ten minutes.

The principal motif seems on a first hearing to come from the isolated cello at the beginning, characterized by a semitone as well as by wider intervals.

In the second movement there are impressive ideas against the chords which give the atmosphere to the piece, with interesting dropping phrases which might give some idea of melody even to opponents of “formalism”.

However that may be, the work has charm, and suggests that Gosnall is on the right path. More may well be expected of him, and the Leodians’ playing seemed to confirm this faith.

I really should compose another one.

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2 Responses to “My Early Life”

  1. Albert William GOSNALL Says:

    Yes, you really should, and dedicate it to your children.

  2. What a lovely review…I’m very impressed Robin…

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