Peter Fribbins
Programme Notes
I have the Serpent Bought
The title comes from the first stanza of the remarkable poem by metaphysical poet John Donne entitled Twicknam Garden, which was probably written between 1610 and 1620:

Blasted by sighs, and surrounded with tears,
Hither I come to seek the spring,
And at mine eyes, and at mine ears,
Receive such balms, as else cure everything;
But O, self traitor, I do bring
The spider love, which transubstantiates all,
And can convert manna to gall,
And that this place may thoroughly be thought
True paradise, I have the serpent brought.

The poem provided the initial inspiration and stimulus for my string quartet, but the music is not intended to be programmatic in the nineteenth century sense. I suppose the dark opening chords may well sound like manna turning to gall, and the elegiac passion of the violin melody that weaves above is certainly connected to the first lines, but there are no further literal (or literary) parallels intended beyond perhaps subliminal associations. The dark, claustrophobic mood of the adagio opening continues into the following main Allegro, but now with energy and perhaps even menace. The adagio and allegro are motifically linked.

A short Adagio follows, much more diatonically tonal than the first movement, simpler, almost naïve, and conceived with luminous chords and transparent textures to form a striking contrast to the dark complexity of the first movement.

A brief Recitative movement draws upon the melodies of the very opening of the work: this leads directly to an Allegro Vivace finale which gives a different perspective on the energetic, motivic material of the first movement and also re-works the dark signature chord which dominates much of the work.

Programme Notes (Pdf -21k) download | view