String Quartet

(1998 - 1999)

  • 2 Violins, Viola, 'Cello
  • Duration: 12 min.


Church at Sensacq

While studying at the New England Conservatory, I increasingly found myself tending toward more abstract works and experimenting with form, structure and musical language. While sometimes this yearning toward abstraction pushed the music away from concrete experiential foundations, my plan was to write the works that I did not know how to write in a secure surrounding. My String Quartet is an example of these tendencies. Arranged in three symmetrical movements around a central meditation, the Quartet attempts to push the players' and my own boundaries both physically and mentally.

The physicality of the quartet is emphasized dramatically. For the most part each member of the quartet is always playing, often in their highest registers and usually in difficult rhythmic and melodic figurations. There are moments in the first movement that are inteded to be impossible to play cleanly, and the central movement is an octet scored for quartet: each players' part is entirely in double stops, the result being eight part dissonant counterpoint. The physical drama plays itself out most eloquently toward the end: after the shimmering of a fixed register chord, the cello begins to strum bits of a Sardinian melody "ala chitarrone" while the rest of the quartet continues unaware. After completing its moment, the cellist places the bow down, while the remaining members play.

Like some of my previous works, the String Quartet is based on a series of chords that create all the harmonic and melodic motion. Melody is generally eschewed for texture and harmony should best be thought of as juxtaposition rather than progression. The meditation movement takes this concept to its logial conclusion. Harmonies layer onto each other in perpetual fade from one chord to the next, a concept I tried to develop further in my Pilgrimage Song.

The String Quartet was the winner of the 1998-1999 Honors String Quartet Competition at the New England Conservatory. I am grateful to the quartet for their time and dedication in putting together a work that challenged all of us.


Jordan Hall, Boston March 31, 1999
New England Conservatory Honors String Quartet
John Holland, violin
I-Ching Li, violin
Chi-Yuen Chen, viola
Ling-Yi Ou Yang, cello

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