Black Dogs

Program note:
Black Dog (noun) melancholy or depression.

The unknown, unknowable workings of the mind are a source of much interest and many questions to me. Where does our sense of self reside? How do we know who we are? When two dear friends recently went through periods of mental fragility, their experiences dominated my own mind, and manifested themselves in this work.

The guitar is the principal voice for the majority of Black Dogs. It is the mind, introducing material that is then amplified, modified and refracted through kaleidoscopic glasses by the 4 string players. The work follows a traditional three movement concerto structure, albeit played continuously and book-ended by a prologue and an epilogue.
The harmonic material for the work has at its heart the all-interval tetrachord D-Eb-F-A. This manifests itself in different ways in each of the three movements – as part of an octatonic scale in the 1st, as part of a dodecaphonic tone row in the 2nd, and as the harmonic delineator of the form in the rondo-like 3rd movement.

The work opens with a Prologue dominated by guitar arpeggio figures, between which small presciences of material from the later movements appear. The 1st movement is dominated by swirling arpeggiated figurations in the violins that delineate a world within which the guitar and lower strings converse. After a period of intense homophony, the uneasy stillness of the second movement emerges. It is centred around a long, languid melody which is constantly kept on its toes by a rocking minor third motif and overlaid with bubbling 12-tone phrases. The 3rd movement is a moto perpetuo of ever-increasing aggression and anxiety which concludes with an epilogue that echoes the opening of the work.

Black Dogs was commissioned by and written for the marvellous guitarist Craig Ogden and the Brodsky Quartet – all impassioned supporters of new music whose technical virtuosity, intuitive musicality and personal generosity are a joy to be around.

Performance note:
My initial discussions with the Brodsky quartet touched on the idea of theatricality in a concert context, and Black Dogs can be performed utilising the full space of a traditional concert platform, with the violinists (placed antiphonally) starting and ending the work at edge-of-stage positions, before closing in on and crowding the soloist during the central sections of the work.

“A highlight was the world premiere of Iain Grandage’s Black Dogs for string quartet and guitar. It opened with shivering string chords that built into a strongly accented rhythmic section, played by the group with gutsy angst.
The interaction between guitar and quartet was cleverly written, with the guitar picking up fragments of the melody as it was passed around, or plucking a note to which the strings would respond with slides and glissandi. It was an exploration of dark sounds with an edge of funk, and would hav been worth hearing again later in the program.”
Rosalind Appleby The West Australian 27/02/2008

“Nowhere were the strengths of the 2008 Perth International Arts Festival, which ended on Sunday, paraded better than one warm evening last week at the Becks Music Box.
The setting was perfect: this groovy open-air venue near the Swan River was Perth’s answer to the Speigeltent of other festivals.
It has been a huge hit, with full houses for such acts as Gretchen Parlato, Meow Meow, Yasmin Levy, Sonic Youth, Feist, Nouvelle Vague and Sharon Jones.
But that night the music was especially sublime. The Brodsky Quartet gave the premiere of a new piece by Perth composer Iain Grandage, lavishing praise on his composition Black Dogs and on local guitarist Craig Ogden who joined the foursome in the concert. It’s a coup that this Australian work now resides in the repertoire of an internationally renowned quartet, and it’s just the kind of creative cross-fertilisation between artists from near and far that festivals should be about.”
Victoria Laurie Gambles pay with gold and gems The Australian March 04, 2008


Black Dogs

For Guitar and String Quartet