Oct 162009


My String Octet consists of four movements linked together to form one continuous arc. The piece is, in a sense, an extended cantata without words, and each move­ment but the second alludes, in a different fashion, to the forms of archaic vocal music. The first movement, marked Incipit, is much like the intonation that opens the Catholic liturgy; it begins with a meditation upon a single, elemental sound, which grows from near-silence into an austere, lonely chant.  This simple monody is joined by a second and then a third imitative line; the texture growing, at last, into a five-part motet, a dissonant and anguished shadow of the great sacred vocal works of Josquin and Palestrina. This leads directly into the second movement, marked Sinfonia in the sense that word held during the early Baroque period when it implied an instrumental interlude within a cantata or an oratorio. This sharp, violent music propels the piece toward the apex of the arc, the beginning of the third movement. Marked Recitative, it is a feverish soliloquy for the first cellist, accom­panied lightly by the rest of the ensemble, and ending in catastrophe. The dying sounds of the third movement fade finally into the fourth, a chorale, in which the music comes as if from a great distance, halting and enigmatic, retreating until it vanishes into the elemental sound with which the piece began.


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