When I had begun work on my own ideas for Divinity (2014) for accordion, guitar and string quintet, I was strongly influenced by the treatment of the pentatonic mode by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his Phantasy Quintet (1912). Keith Anderson wrote that the first viola “…starts the opening Prelude with thematic material of pentatonic outline, to be answered by the first violin.” I chose to give organise my melodic material in a similar manner, but I decided to listen to the complete disc of Vaughan Williams quartets recorded by the Maggini Quartet. It was upon listening to the astounding emotional and unpredictable Romance from the String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (1942-1943), that I developed a significant passion for Vaughan Williams as a composer of chamber music. His String Quartet in A minor gives preferential treatment to the viola in all movements and proved to be a vital source of inspiration for me. Just as Vaughan Williams scored his Phantasy Quintet for two violas, I included two viola parts in Divinity.
Divinity begins with the alternation of two unsettled sounding accordion chords, which are later echoed in the part writing of the other instruments. These chords are contrasted with the more gentle sounding pentatonic mode, which is gradually explored. A harmonic transformation leads into the concluding coda-like section. All players are often treated like soloists, who play isolated melodies with an almost timeless quality. The title represents an image of the turning of the Earth, and of casting a golden light over the holy image of the viola!
I asked Paul Beckett and Lucia D’Avanzo-Lewis to play violas, with Karen Jolliffe and Kammy Pike playing violin. I had already worked with Aidan Shepherd (accordion) and Ben Insall (guitar) when conducting the Leon Quartet with Paul Beckett and Arlet in Concords of Sound (2014), so it seemed appropriate to group these players together again, only this time for something slightly different.
Martin Outram very kindly allowed me to include Divinity in the chamber concert program in the Canterbury Christ Church University Viola Day in February 2015.