‘George Crumb’s masterpiece, Black Angels, is surely one of the stand-out quartets of all time. Dating from Friday 13 July 1970, it is his comment on the Vietnam War and is brimming with invention. It is a highly theatrical and colourful work utilising many techniques unique to this piece. While Karen Tanaka was writing her wonderful two-movement work inspired by Beethoven’s First Quartet, Op. 18 No. 3, she found herself bombarded with deeply upsetting images from the war in Bosnia. She somehow managed to turn these into one of the most calm and touching movements imaginable.
‘Erwin Schulhoff didn’t just see war images; as a Jew in Prague he experienced them first-hand. He died in a Nazi concentration camp but not before writing some of the most exciting and original music I know. Dave Brubeck would often visit our office when he was in London. On one such occasion he brought with him a little present for us. It was a piece called Regret and turned out to be his response to the 9/11 attack.
‘This brings us to one of the most iconic string quartets of the 20th century. Dmitri Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet was written in 1960 and was an immediate reaction to seeing the devastation caused to the city of Dresden by the Allied bombing. The composer was already at a low ebb in his life and said, “if no-one writes me an epitaph, let this be it”. It carries the inscription “For the Victims of Fascism and War”.