When Nicholas Daniel asked me to write an oboe quintet for him, I replied immediately that I would rather write an oboe quartet; the clarity and lightness of the Mozart oboe quartet was very much in my mind and I was concerned about the added density a second violin might bring to the piece. Nicholas was adamant, and so I accepted the challenge of writing for a combination for which there is hardly any other repertoire. I did not want to treat the string quartet as a quasi-orchestral accompaniment (that would have been too easy!); although the oboe predominates and leads the musical development to a large extent, the strings, including the second violin, play more than just a supporting role. The main ideas for the work, both melodic and harmonic, are stated in the first few bars and the rest of the work develops organically from this material. Motifs, melodies and harmonies are ‘recollected’ throughout the piece, often in new contexts, to provide a sense of unity.
There are five movements played without a break (fast, slow, fast, slow, fast), the last being an extended coda, The first movement is moderately fast and is in a concertante style. It is followed by a slow and lyrical movement, and then a scherzo. The fourth movement is also slow, and the final section, the coda, returns to the music of the scherzo, gradually slowing down to a quiet and reflective conclusion.
This work was commissioned by Wigmore Hall with the support of André Hoffman, president of the Fondation Hoffmann, a Swiss grant-making foundation, and lasts approximately 19 minutes.