Biela’s Comet (the comet) was first seen in 1772, and has been the subject of numerous brief panics in the public imagination in when it was thought it might collide with the Earth and destroy the planet. Instead, it has become most notable because during the mid-nineteenth century it split into two segments that went their seperate ways and were never seen again (although 1872 saw a glorious meteor shower at the point where the comet would have passed – a giant cosmic funereal fireworks display).
Biela’s Comet (the string quartet) is based around the notion of the quartet splitting into two parts. The structure is built around a series of sections for two instruments that gradually converge – first there is a pizzicato duet for first violin and cello alone, then a duet for accelerating cello and decelerating viola overlaps with a similar one for the two violins. Finally the piece ends with two duos both playing the same music. Hence the quartet (unlike the comet) is reunited, and it plays some half-remembered music from one of the years in which Biela’s Comet was spotted.
Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola & cello
Duration: c. 13 mins
Premiere: 19 October 2012 by Evropska Quartet, St James Piccadilly, London, UK
Further performance: 26 October 2012 by Evropska Quartet, Sounds of the Engine House, International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester, UK