String Quartet #1

This quartet has many characteristics of a traditional such work — the second movement, for instance, is a traditional theme and variations, and the fourth is a traditional rondo — but I’ve taken a lot of liberties with things like transitions and key changes. As my first completed work, my goals were many-fold: establish a workflow, learn the use of tools, flesh out my take on harmony and tonality, as well as produce a finished product for one of my favorite ensemble configurations.

Here are some notes on tonality, and my general approach to composing.

All movements are written in minor keys, but with some notable quirks.

  • Often the 3rd of the scale is handled ambiguously, with major and minor 3rds used in close proximity, or largely ignored altogether.
  • With an oft-raised 6th, the feel is closer to Dorian mode, though that is also not consistent.
  • Chords frequently have added tones outside the triadic tradition (lots of 2nds and 4ths).
  • Key changes are frequent, often jarring, and ignoring traditional “circle of 5ths” relationships.

Although clearly embedded in 20th Century tonality, these movements were not written with an obvious mapping of preexisting theoretical or historical practice onto a finished product. I have assumed, from the beginning, that my ear has obtained, through nearly 60 years of listening and analysis, a sensibility and approach to tonality that should simply be allowed to be. My workflow involves a lot of testing of ideas through listening, an approach to writing that the use of software/playback supports. I will leave it to theorists to tell me how that went. In general, I do love tonal centers, but yearn for complexity, and embrace frequent and jarring change.

You should listen to the movements in order, and without distractions. I’ve included program notes on each specific movements on their pages.

Go to 1st Movement: Allegro

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