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The University of Southampton

Kreutzer Quartet with Michael Finnissy Event

Professional concert series
13:00 - 14:00
7 March 2016
Turner Sims University of Southampton Highfield Campus SO17 1BJ

For more information regarding this event, please telephone Louise Johnson on 023 8059 8424 or email .

Event details

Celebrating his 70th birthday this month, Michael Finnissy performs his completion of Grieg's Piano Quintet in B-flat major and his own composition reflecting on the piece, alongside the critically-acclaimed Kreutzet Quartet.


Edvard Grieg (1846-1907): Piano Quintet in B-flat major [EG 118]
Michael Finnissy (b.1946): Grieg Quintettsatz

Michael Finnissy writes:

In present-day culture ‘composing’ can mean, if it means anything at all, many things to different people. Music is both sound and some form of intellectual discipline (even ‘jazzing’). When (or if) it is written down, what the eye sees on the page influences what the brain does next. Human beings also remember things, so what the composer remembers of other music, has also to be analysed and dealt with, imitated or expunged. The late 19th century Italian composer Busoni suggested that Composing and Transcribing were, in essence, the same.

But the term ‘transcription’ is usually thought to be pretty much the same as ‘arranging’, perhaps the greater or lesser degrees of alteration or distortion make a difference, but basically it is less highly prized than ‘originating’. Busoni knew that in writing music down, the hand transcribes the sound and the thought, and that this is not a trouble-free process, as the hand is much slower than the brain and can only write one note at a time. So the music evolves either horizontally or vertically, according to the composer’s preference and experience. Our history also encourages us to think that music should be cohesive, that the notes should somehow join up and make sense - like words in a sentence, or sentences in a paragraph. So, as the eye watches the music spread across the paper, the ear hopefully hears what is going on, and the brain suggests ways of continuing.

And, for one reason or another, things do not always go smoothly.

In 1892 Grieg noted in his sketchbook some revisions to his incidental music to Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’. He also started writing a Piano Quintet, and what he completed is a 250-bar draft, starting at the beginning and going up to the exposition repeat. There is no helpful suggestion about what might happen next, no useful musical, verbal or diagrammatical sketches. This torso was published in the Grieg Gesamtausgabe, but there seems to have been no previous attempt to complete it.

My Southampton colleague Paul Cox (Head of Strings) suggested I took up the gauntlet. This was a labour of love, which began in 2007 and ended five years later in the Spring of 2012, approximately 120 years after Grieg had laid down his pen.

After two complete, but unsatisfactory, attempts had been performed in London, the definitive version was performed by the Kreutzer Quartet and Roderick Chadwick at the 2013 Bergen International Festival. It has since been recorded (on Métier/Divine Art CD) and awarded a special prize by the UK Grieg Society.

After some initial research and experimentation with the material, I decided to fashion a one-movement symphonic structure, akin to the Liszt Piano Sonata or Schoenberg First Kammersymphonie. After Grieg’s exposition (with the few gaps filled in), the central section comprises a scherzo (suggesting a Halling played by the Hardanger fiddle) using material derived from the exposition codetta, and an adagio (in imitation of Grieg’s Poetic Tone-Pictures Op.3), and the recapitulation in which the instrumentation of the exposition is reversed (piano taking music previously assigned to the strings and vice versa).

Whilst working on the completion of Grieg’s Quintet I also ‘documented’ my progress with a quintet of my own. Initially shadowing Grieg’s composing for 250 bars, with references to his typical sources in Ludvig Mathias Lindeman’s ‘Ældre og nyere norske Fjeldmelodier’ and (suggested by Grieg’s visit to Bayreuth) the second act of Wagner’s ‘Die Walküre’. The Hardanger fiddle makes an appearance here too, before the memories of Grieg’s impact on Debussy, Grainger and hosts of other composers right up to John Cage, suggested the ‘journey’ of the second part.

[Both these works are published by Oxford University Press. A longer biography of the composer is available on]




Kreutzer Quartet

Peter Sheppard Skærved, Mihailo Trandafilovski – Violins
Clifton Harrison – Viola
Neil Heyde – Cello

The Kreutzer Quartet are the dedicatees of hundreds of new works: in the the next six months alone they will present new works by composers including Robert Saxton, Laurie Bamon, Elliott Schwartz, Peter Dickinson, Roger Redgate, Robin Holloway, Jeremy Dale Roberts, Gary Carpenter, David Matthews, Paul Pellay and Rosalind Page, to name just a few. They are particularly proud of their long collaboration with Michael Finnissy; this has resulted in a series of critically acclaimed recordings and films, on Metier/Divine Art and NMC, and the premiere of Michael’s 2nd and 3rd Quartets, and the works heard here today.

Look out for the new releases from the Kreutzer Quartet: David Matthews-Complete Quartets Volume 4 (Toccata Classics), and Edward Cowie-Quartets 3, 4, &5 (NMC).





Rehearsing the piano quintet
Michael Finnissy with Kreutzer Quartet
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