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Work of the Week – Alexander Goehr: Vision of the Soldier Er

On 7 June 2019 the Villiers Quartet will give the world premiere of Alexander Goehr’s string quartet Vision of the Soldier Er at the idyllic Swaledale Festival. The piece comes after a break of almost thirty years since the completion of his fourth quartet.

The new quartet is inspired by the myth of Er, a legend that concludes Plato’s influential philosophical text Republic. In his programme note for the work, Goehr remarks about how it was an imagined vision of planets’ titanic movement circling the earth that inspired the work’s soundworld.

Alexander Goehr: Vision of the Soldier Er – A journey after life in six movements

Goehr’s work is divided into six movements tracing the soldier Er’s journey after having been killed in battle. The second and fifth movement of the quartet take their title from a poem inspired by the Vision of Er by the Gabriel Levin, a poet who’s texts Goehr set in the work To These Dark Steps op. 90.

Initially I was taken by the image of the planets, circling the earth each with a siren sounding a single note. I tried to imagine what this might sound like all together. In the 4th movement of my quartet “I beheld light beams fastened like a ship’s under girders,” I tried to portray (in microcosm!) the eternal image, taking a 6 part mechanical canon by Messiaen as a point of departure. – Alexander Goehr

Following the world premiere on 7 June 2019, the Villiers Quartet give a second performance on 8 June 2019 as part of a festival at Oxford University celebrating the music of Alexander Goehr and his past pupil Martyn Harry. The festival will also include performances of Goehr’s Nonomiya, and …in real time by pianist Jonathan Powell, and his Quintet for clarinet and strings by the Villiers Quartet and Ib Haussman.