Program Note:

Quartet No. 14 is in the traditional four movements, but the music is not conservative, though I do feel it is highly Romantic. Throughout, the style is modern, balancing traditional forms with powerfully projected, and often astringent harmonies.

The use of sonata form in the first movement (Toccata) contrasts a very fast and tightly controlled rhythmic first theme in octaves in all four parts, with a more sustained, though still agitated lyricism in the viola’s second theme.

The second movement (Notturno) offers a palliative sense of calm, but the nocturnal mysteries seem enveloped within a sense of uneasy calm; this is the antithesis of the first movement’s headlong, manic energy. The gently rocking motion in the lower strings support the first violin’s melodic explorations.

Movement three, De Profundis is the heart of Quartet No. 14 and is cast in the form of a funeral march/dirge, with a contrasting lyrical section. The overall form, A-B, is repeated and developed, and the work fades away with pizzicato chords and a sustained Perfect fifth on the open strings, G and D of the violin and cello, played as harmonics. This piece was the first of the four movements of Quartet No. 14 to be composed, and was written in memoriam to honor my friend and mentor Irwin Shainman, Professor Emeritus of Music at Williams College who passed away July 8, 2012. The title is taken from Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths I cry unto you, O Lord...”).

After the in extremis qualities of De Profundis, the Quartet had to end, I felt, powerfully and triumphantly. To accomplish this, I took a page from Brahms’ playbook from his Fourth Symphony, and composed a Chaconne with 32 variations and Coda. A chaconne is a harmonic pattern that is repeated over and over, but is varied with each repetition. The eight bar theme is very concise, and all the ensuing variations are similarly tightly wound. The Coda brings back the opening theme of the first movement, but transforms it into a positive statement, concluding with a sense of both transcendence and conquering victory in glorious D Major.

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