Mantle Plume

for string quartet

Richard Whalley

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for string quartet

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Composer Richard Whalley
Year of Composition 2019
Duration ca.30'
ISMN 9790570682683
Categories (all composers) , ,
Catalogue ID ce-rw1mp1


Mantle Plume is inspired by Icelandic geology, which I find endlessly fascinating. Iceland sits on a mantle plume, which is a pool of hot magma underpinning a thin area of the earth’s crust. This is why there is so much volcanism in Iceland. Moreover, it is the one place in the world where the mid-Atlantic ridge can be observed above sea level, so one can find geological features normally only found at the bottom of oceans. Factor in its geographic position, in the path of so many North Atlantic storms, and at the boundary between the gulf-stream and the Arctic, and you have the recipe for an incredibly varied and distinctive landscape. Indeed, geology in Iceland takes place in fast-forward compared with most other places on earth: volcanoes are constant forming, which are then eroded or ground down by glaciers and rivers. Fire meets ice, creation meets destruction – the consequences of a battle between elemental forces. Iceland takes full advantage of its situation, generating its heat and electricity from geothermal energy.

My goal is that Mantle Plume sounds and feels as though it were created by a force of nature. This is easier said than done, but I took inspiration from the shapes in nature, including elevation profiles of landscapes, and the proportions of the distances between various landmarks. I have also taken inspiration from natural processes, such as the flowing of different types of lava, the eroding of river canyons, and accumulation over centuries of layers of lava that have gradually built the landscape.

There are four distinct movements, grouped into two pairs, and although each concerns itself with a particular aspect of the landscape, there are many connections between different parts of the piece.

The work is dedicated to my friend and colleague Camden Reeves, whose generosity knows no bounds, and whose music is like that of no other composer I know. In particular, his unique approach to shape and time have always been a significant inspiration to me. I’m also very honoured to have composed this for the brilliant Quatuor Danel, who premiered the work in Utrecht on 19th January, 2019.