(1998; revised 2001)
for string quartet
First performance (original version): 8 March 1998, Emperor Quartet/Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London, UK
In psychology, an 'idée fixe' is an obsessively held belief or preoccupation (often a mental disorder) that is impervious to attempts to correct or modify it. But it is also a musical term, first coined by Hector Berlioz to describe the recurring love theme in his Symphonie fantastique. The 'idée fixe' in this short one-movement quartet is not so much a theme but an eight-note motive which, even when slightly transformed, is consistently recognisable as the music hurtles through its energetic eight-or-so minutes. During this time, each of the four instruments (starting with the 2nd violin) is featured in concertante solo moments which alternate with passages for the ensemble together. The accumulated intensity eventually reaches a head before dissipating into a more tranquil conclusion in which, perhaps, the fixation is exorcised.