Canon Fodder: Adagissimo

Brian Ferneyhough: Adagissimo (1983)

  • Brian Ferneyhough was born in Coventry, England in 1943. He currently teaches at Stanford University.
  • Adagissimo was written for the Arditti Quartet.
  • My other favorites by this composer are Terrain and La Chute d'Icare.


Brian Ferneyhough has gained a reputation for being a composer of hard music: hard to play and listen to. This piece, while certainly not easy for the performers, is a great in-road to his style due to its extreme brevity. Give it a chance, you'll only need two minutes.

The broad brushstrokes of his pen remind me of an early painting by Jackson Pollock that I love. It's full of emotional depth, but bursting with flourish, energy and wild virtuosity. Oddly, I even think of a short story by David Foster Wallace. Like Wallace, Ferneyhough has a masterful command of his technique, and is teeming with material to work with, but there's also a deeply soulful underpinning to the music.

The violins splash colors as the work opens, revealing the dolorous music of the viola and cello below. The lower voices lay it on thick with dark browns and dirty navy blues while the violins sparkle in golden threads.

If you're interested in more of the technicalities, the YouTube notes provide information from the composer.