Instrumentation: two violins, viola, cello
Duration: ca. 28′
Commission: Max Aronoff Viola Institute
Premiere: 30 June 1998, Bastyr University (Kenmore, Wash.)
Score available upon request.
In many ways, I consider my First String Quartet my “opus 1”. It was the first work I composed upon my arrival as a graduate student at the Juilliard School. It is also my first composition studying under John Corigliano. Unlike earlier works, I spent a very long time composing it––nearly eight months, in fact. It also represents my first truly large-scale composition. Whereas earlier works of mine consist of shorter movements, most no longer than five minutes, this quartet’s second movement alone lasts over twenty.
The unusual form of the work appears at first to be lop-sided, with a short first movement followed by a very long second movement. However, the structure is built of a symmetrical shape, wherein parts of the first movement recur (in slightly altered form) toward the end of the piece, closing the loop, as it were. The movements are marked in the following way:
Serene and still – Fast and energetic
Part 1. Slow, broad and expansive – Eerily still and calm
Part 2. Chorale-like, tender – Rhapsodic and improvisatory
Part 3. Immediately very slow and deliberate – Tempo I˚
Most of the first movement is based on falling scales, heard slowly at the outset, then sped up, stretched through glissando effects, and even upside-down. It serves as an introduction to the second movement, which is broken into three parts. “Part 1” opens with an ominous churning that eventually gives way to a furtive tune in the first violin and cello. That melody is transformed and reset in “Part 2,” which introduces it as a lilting, wistful song. A reappearance of the first movement’s scales brings us to “Part 3″––the climax of the whole piece––which eventually closes with a return to the opening sonorities of the quartet.
String Quartet No. 1 was commissioned by the Max Aronoff Viola Institute for their 1998 recital series, with the generous assistance of Dr. Eloise R. Giblett (1921-2009), the noted medical researcher, and given its world premiere by members of the festival faculty.