John Foulds: Quartetto intimo (String quartet op.89)


For anyone interested in reading about Foulds's more adventurous works, the Quartetto intimo, completed in 1932, is a good place to start. Its title might suggest a work of gentle appeal but its violently discordant opening bars, setting the listener up for a rollercoaster journey of discovery, are more than enough to refute the idea. This work is intimate only in the intensity of its expression, since in tone it runs the full gamut of the string quartet's dynamic and textural potential. It reveals a composer of music both passionate and contemporary, in stark contrast with his reputation by the 1930's as a composer of 'light music' - a reputation he railled against at the same time as accepting as a necessary provider of income; this duality of purpose is exposed in exquisite quasi-self-contradictory style in his book of 1934, Music To-Day. In fact, for all its potential for European success, the Intmo was not performed in public until 1980, and remains the first of only two quartets he is known to have approached in his later years, those written previously totalling probably eight.

For the listener

The Turina-Quartett have kindly given permission for a live performance made in February 2003 to be downloaded free of charge. Please click here to download a .zip file containing the whole work in mp3 format (31.7Mb). Many thanks to cellist Michael Schlechtriem for making this possible.

The movements

1. Poco trattenuto - Impetuoso
2. Lento introspettivo
3. Pasquinade: Con amore
4. Colloquy: Serioso
5. Finale: Energico passionata

Performing duration between 30 and 35 minutes.

The manuscript

A manuscript score is held in the collections of the British Library. For copyright permission and background information apply to Graham Hatton.

Add.56481 Foulds Collection. Vol. xiii. 'Quartetto Intimo', for string quartet, op. 89; 1932. Score.
ff. i+14. Largest size 355 x 265mm.

Minimal but appreciable preservation work was undertaken for this manuscript in the form of page-edge restoration and binding, but this has helped maintain its readable condition. Foulds's hand is steady and clear throughout. A few pencil markings and the occasional thick black ink are added but although not attributed to the composer, they seem logical amendments and performance indications. An authorative edition of the work in future should not prove at all controversial. Reproduction of the manuscript requires permission from the British Library, whose charges for this "service" are too high for free web reproduction.

Performance history

Since Foulds was a keen chamber player it is at least possible that the work was performed privately during his lifetime. Not publically performed until the Endellion Quartet took it to the 1980 Bromsgrove Festival. Recently added to the repertoire of the Turina-Quartett (ca.2003).


This work was not published.

Commercial recordings

Foulds - Quartetto intimo [et al]
Catalogue: Pavillion Records/Pearl SHECD9564 (released 1995.11)
Barcode: 727031956426
Duration: 54 mins

1. Quartetto intimo [String quartet no.9, op.89, 1931] *LISTEN: 0'00"-0'44"*
2. Quartetto geniale [String quartet no.10, op.97, 1935] Excerpt: Lento quieto
3. Music pictures: group ii, 'Aquarelles' [x3, op.32, 1914]

Performers: Endellion Quartet
Recorded: St Peter's Church, Notting Hill Gate, London, 1981.7.25-26

Notes: 6 pages of uncredited liner notes with a nod to the British Music Society. A review is available at Previously released on LP as SHE 564

The music

Permission has been successfully sought to display opening extracts from the quartet movements. Click here for full-size notation [ca.1MB].


Things to watch out for (definitely not an analysis!)

What other have to say

Mitunter gibt sein "Quartetto" Ratsel auf, etwa im dritten Satz "Pasquinade". "Mit Humor" soll es gespielt werden. Da aber geistert beständig das bedrohliche "Dies irae, dies illa" durch die vier Streicher - Foulds' Geheimnis, das hier "intimo" bleibt.
[Münster concert, November 2002, featuring Mozart, Foulds and Schönberg] Programme notes

Even if the work does not appeal to you, can you deny the mastery of writing for a string quartet or the torrent of invention which is poured forth?
Lance Tufnell ('John Herbert Foulds (1880-1939). An appreciation' in British Music Society journal, vol.10 1988, pp.47-55)

... a masterpiece by any standards: one of the greatest string quartets by a British composer.
Malcolm MacDonald, John Foulds and his music, 1989 (London, Kahn & Averill, Ltd.)


Foulds has very few scholarly champions and articles focussing on his music beyond simple biographical surveys must be sough after usually in the less high profile journals. Malcolm MacDonald is by far the most prolific of writers, contributing in volume perhaps more than the rest combined. His research into cataloguing Foulds' works for John Foulds: his life in music (Triad Press, 1975) went as far as brief analysis of the prominent themes and devices the composer used (pp.42-44) but he was to return to the quartet in far more detail in an article written for the music librarian-serving journal Tempo: 'John Foulds and the string quartet' (vol.132, March 1980, pp.16-25, credited as Calum MacDonald), which also made some inroads into comparisons with his earlier quartets as well as the existing material remaining of the Quartetto geniale. His closer inspection of the quartet is also reflected in the 1989 publication John Foulds and his music (PRO/AM Music Resources / Kahn & Averill, Ltd.).