Dag Wirén: String Quartet No.3


Swedish composer Dag Wirén’s musical oeuvre can be summed up by looking at just his five string quartets. Composed between 1935 and 1970, the span and development of Wirén’s style can be assessed throughout all quartets. The composer removed the first quartet that composed during the 1920s, so we begin with the Second, which is quite conventional with the four-movement structure and handling of the main theme. The third and fourth quartets part from the norm more so as Wirén explores his own personal style which sees him manipulating the music differently. By the Fifth quartet in 1970, Wirén has fully-developed his style into a truly mesmerising display of musicianship. All of these artistic changes can also be found in Wirén’s orchestral music. 


The Music

The Third String Quartet was composed in 1941, during a period where Wirén was exploring a new way of writing. Firmly planted in the neoclassical school during the 20th century, Wirén begins to push the boundaries in his Third String Quartet, although this becomes more dramatic in his Fourth. Set into four movements, the Third hones back to the Second which also focuses on textural development. 


Movement I – Allegro Moderato

The laid back and somewhat affirmative style of the opening movement shows the composer’s lighter side of writing, with the light melodies bouncing between each instrument. The melodic development is rich and creative, with Wirén focusing on how things sound both sonically and musically. The powerful unison section creates unity between the quartet, which makes quite the statement during parts of this movement. The energetic pace is soon stopped in its tracks as a solemn interlude plays out towards the end of the movement. However, a quiet version of the quick violin theme closes the movement off in full circle motion.


Movement II – Andante

The ever-developing second movement opens with a lyrical theme led by the upper violin. The countermelody played by the cello and viola soon turns into a quick solo section as the other strings play pizzicato. This sudden change in texture is exciting and keeps the ear interested in what Wirén is offering. The quick bursts of change in both dynamics and tempo adds shock value to the quartet as the music quickly moves along. Wirén’s rich textures in this movement are a highlight. After another pizzicato theme, the movement concludes quietly.


Movement III – Presto

The irresistibly quick third movement fizzes with energy as all the strings play quick and intricate themes. The bouncy compound time adds to the rush of the piece as the cello utilises pizzicato movement to create a playful bassline. This is perhaps the most playful movement of the four, the constant pushing of this theme is what gels this movement together. The shortest of all the movements, the scherzo movement concludes with a cheeky pizzicato flourish. 


Movement IV – Allegro

Opening with a solemn theme that is somewhat similar to the opening movement, Wirén’s rich textural writing sits at the forefront. Soon, the movement bursts into life as the quartet buzz through the catchy melodies. Wirén’s use of call and response to run through the various melodic fragments creates competition between the strings, which soon fizzles out into a slow central section. Now much darker in tone, this atmosphere does not last long before the violins play some duo themes. As the quartet unites for the final few bars of the piece, the energetic theme returns once more before the dramatic end plays out.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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