In Memoriam, originally subtitle ’An Irish Elegy’, is scored for cor anglais, harp and string quartet. The music is announced, bard-like, by the harp, with a repeated spread chordal motif; the cor anglais immediately sounds the folk-like main theme, which is taken by and shared with the strings.
The String Quintet in one movement, with two violas was composed in 1933. In his mid-twenties Bax had written a highly complex, four-movement Quintet with two cellos, and returned to the form ten years on with this work. This later Quintet is characterized by its constant changes of texture and tempo, the score littered with dynamic markings.
Bax’s octet is scored for the unusual forces of horn, piano and string sextet (with double bass). Its composition came about as the result of a commision from the American musical benefactor and champion of chamber music Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.
Threnody and Scherzo is another octet, written this time for bassoon, harp and string sextet (with double bass). The work was written with the distinctive artistry of bassoonist Archie Camden and harpist Maria Korchinska in mind. At the outset the strings setthe haunted mood against which the bassoon spins its elegiac line. Soon the strings launch the lyrical second subject, and after a brief interplay between bassoon and strings, the music dies away.
Having completed Threnody and Scherzo in 1936, Bax went on immediately to write the COncerto for Flute, Oboe, Harp and String Quartet. The work is a direct transcription of the Sonata for Flute and harp which he had written in 1928 but never published. The outer movements are sunny and extrovert; the finale is dance-like, the nearest Bax ever came to neo-classicism.