Quatrain is a ten-minute piece for wind, brass and percussion instruments. Its title describes its form: although it runs in one continuous movement, it can be divided into four sections, rather like old-fashioned symphonic form. There is an exposition, a development section in a much slower style (only six chords are spaced out over some two minutes of music here); a contrasting scherzo-type section and finally a kind of recapitulation. There is also a noticeable development in the way that the (all metal) percussion instruments are used as the piece progresses: handbells and steel tubes dominate the opening, the keyed percussion instruments are gong and prevalent in the middle of the piece, and the heavy metal returns at the end. Among the wind instruments the only unusual feature is the use of five clarinets, the intention being to strengthen the bass line by adding a contrabass clarinet.
Quatrain was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra for the opening of their 1989 season and first performed by them under Michael Tilson Thomas in San Sebastian, Spain, on August 29th 1989.