There’s something uniquely sensual and physical about string music that attracts me as a composer. I love the feeling I get when I hear a good violinist really digging into the bottom string in a Beethoven sonata or a cellist gracefully arpeggiating across the strings in a Bach prelude. Its not just about pitches and rhythms – there’s also something in the quality of the sound, something about the effort it takes to produce the note that gives us clues as to the musical meaning. It’s the massive difference between an up-bow with its build up of tension and a down-bow - the release, the out-breath. This piece is all about the right arm – the bowing arm.
Bow your head begins with the simplest of gestures – the bow drawn across the open strings. By adopting a special scordatura (detuning of the strings), I was able to find all the harmonic, rhythmic, dynamic and textural material I needed for the piece embedded in this one, graceful movement. The members of the string quartet are divided in to two pairs – violin 1 and cello (very much to the foreground) and violin 2 and viola (muted, shadowing). To highlight this relationship the second pair is tuned very slightly flatter than the first. As the piece unfolds violin 2 and viola gradually emerge from the shadows and a dialogue develops.