Program Note:

Quartet No. 16 is based upon a completely different model. This work is really a suite of seven brief pieces, all derived from dance, jazz or pop ballad conceptions. The musical themes are taken from melodies or instrumental songs I composed as long ago as 1965. Originally, they started life as pop tunes-inspired piano pieces I wrote for my own amusement when I was playing the piano in jazz bands and “club date” combos. After I began to focus on writing modern classical music, I abandoned them; they remained until 2013 in my desk as fondly remembered juvenilia.

I fondly recalled these pieces, and re-examined them, with the idea of creating a more sophisticated and integrated suite from this diverse, old material. I found that the music still attracted me and felt that it could be re-fashioned into a novel collection of encore-like caprices - hence the subtitle “Popular Songs Without Words.”

Of the seven pieces in the suite, six date from 1965-1980. The only new music is the first song, composed in 2013, to open the Quartet. Here is a rundown on the seven pieces in the suite:

  1. Berkshire Boogie-Woogie (after Mondrian): This piece serves as a kind of “overture” to the suite. Inspired by one of my favorite Modern artists, Piet Mondian and his iconic “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” grid masterpiece, I wrote this 1940s-era swing era homage. The piece ends with some nifty downward “catcall” string glissandi.
  2. Lou’s Song: Composed in 1980, when I was living in New Orleans (hence my re-awakened interest in early jazz), this is a tender song dedicated to my Irish terrier, Lou (full name: Allouette), who was such a sweetheart.
  3. Valse Lent: Originally composed in 1979 as a violin and piano encore, I embellished the harmonies and elaborated on the texture to take advantage of the string quartet’s potential. It’s a very post-Impressionistic and mysterious piece. Imagine Paris in the pre-dawn mist.
  4. Swingin’ at the Lake House I: Dating from the summer of 1965, the piece was written while I was the pianist in a band at The Lake House – a tiny hotel in Woodbridge, New York, in the Catskill Mountains. Think of Joe Venuti (the father of the jazz violin). There actually was very little in the way of “swingin’” at The Lake House, as the Jewish Orthodox clientele would have frowned on such outrageous activity. The swing style was in my imagination, though, as the band’s drummer was an excellent jazz musician, clearly out of his element that summer.
  5. Boro Park Bossa Nova: Composed in 1965 when the Brazilian bossa nova dance craze was at its height, my version is a suave variation on the theme, with smooth, but wildly modulating sequences. There’s also more of a New York blues-y cast to the melody, rather than an emulation of the suave Rio de Janeiro playa. The title is homage to a Lake House busboy acquaintance who lived in the Chassidic section of Brooklyn known as Boro Park. He was an affable fellow who had a very accommodating manner, reminiscent of the writing style of Chaim Potok, when he would offer an aphorism: “From every bad comes a little good.”
  6. Cherokee Street Lullaby: This is a pop-ballad song dating from 1979. A simple, but harmonically complex tune, somewhat in the manner of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” or David Raksin’s “Laura”. At that time I lived on Cherokee Street in New Orleans.
  7. Swingin’ at the Lake House II: Another fast “up tempo” from 1967 in the manner of big band jazz, with a decidedly Stan Kenton-ish concluding section, which ends – literally – up in the air.
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