String Quartet Evolution: Gubaidulina’s String Quartet No. 4

The string quartet has been a compass for composers dating back to the days of Haydn: it requires the skill and imagination of all other genres while possessing an extreme sensitivity to the demands of the art form. Tatar-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina’s work explores what a quartet is, asking the listener what is “real” and “unreal” with live and pre-recorded sound.

World Premiere: Anna Clyne’s Breathing Statues

The world premiere of Anne Clyne's Breathing Statues, performed by the Calidore String Quartet at Princeton University.

Video courtesy of Princeton University

Sofia Gubaidulina

F Hoffmann / La Roche Ltd.

Bill Viola: “The Deluge” from Going Forth By Day

In this iconic sequence from Bill Viola’s 5-part video installation Going Forth By Day (2002), a crowd of pedestrians grows fearful of an impending deluge—a cascade of frothy water that inconceivably pours forth from a squarely framed apartment building. Viola’s massive creation served as a source of inspiration for a series of four commissioned chamber works from Chamber Music Monterey Bay, among them Joan Tower’s Fifth String Quartet, White Water (2012). At the premiere of the quartet, excerpts from Going Forth By Day were presented before the music was heard.

Tower: White Water for String Quartet (NY Premiere)

On the relationship between Going Forth By Day and her string quartet, Tower writes: “When I saw [Bill] Viola's work, I was quite fascinated with how he used water as an encompassing image which influenced everything I saw about the ‘person’ inside the water. My piece is not directly associated by what he specifically did but it does have a strong connection to the image of water as a powerful basic idea and action. The many glissandos hopefully create a ‘fluid’ environment that connects the various ideas and registers together, while ‘white water’ somehow implies more rapid ‘cascading’ types of action which occur throughout the piece.”

Performed by the Daedalus String Quartet, Jaunary 31, 2013, Kaplan Penthouse

Slow Counterpoint

W.A. Mozart, speaking on the clarity of musical ideas that comes through in works of slow counterpoint, once wrote that “if a fugue is not played slowly, the effect is missed.” Crossing contrapuntal voices are a cornerstone of Conlon Nancarrow’s compositional output, which contains a striking number of canons and imitative exercises. The second movement of Nancarrow’s String Quartet No. 1 is a slow-paced piece of canonic contemplation that would have been most worthy of Mozart’s praise. This playlist explores the enticing, often melancholy effect achieved by down-tempo fugues written and arranged by these two composers and by others from Bach to Bartók.