String Quartet No. 3 — The Alynne (1998)

Owen Underhill

string quartet

Program Notes

The third string quartet was composed after the birth of my daughter Alynne in 1997. Alynne was discovered to have a chromosomal abnormality shortly before her birth. The unexpected crisis seemed to stop time even in the midst of a hurtling chaos of medical commentary and internal psychological fears and pressures.

Around this time, a friend sent us some lines from Yeats:

We can make our minds so like still water, that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be their own images. And so live for a moment with clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet

As our family discovered a miraculous and sometimes painful new world that our daughter opened up for us, I was presented with the opportunity to write a work for the Maggini String Quartet of England to be premiered in the 1998 Vancouver New Music International New Music Festival. The piece that resulted, although not programmatic or directly autobiographical, reflects qualities of that special year. The music alternates between a delicate and fragile frozen landscape and a series of dances. Each dance, culminating with a high and treacherous viola solo, symbolized for me flying over danger, arriving again into a place of stillness. I thought about the Yeats message as I composed the piece and this text I placed in the score as my program note.