String quartet no.3
I. Spinning Gold
II. Star Sapphire
IV. Black Diamond
As a cellist myself, I have often remarked that I would be happy to write string quartets all the time, or at least most of it. My Third String Quartet is in many ways my most ambitious work—one in which I feel I achieved an emotional openness and vulnerability to match my consistent desire to create music built upon rigorous logic and structural integrity. Toward the end of my first year at Yale, Chris Theofanidis explained to me his idea that most composers have at least two essentially different creative impulses—a sort of split musical personality—and that each new piece represents an attempt to reconcile these fundamental aspects of a composer’s musical constitution. In this quartet, I see the two fundamental poles being
a sort of incessant, driving, motoric energy, juxtaposed with an expansive lyricism and metrical fluidity.
The title of the first movement, “Spinning Gold,” comes from an image that came to me as I was writing the piece. I was up against a deadline, writing the climax of this movement at about 3:30 in the morning, and somehow the image of the old fairytale about spinning straw into gold seemed appropriate to the textures of the piece, and seemed directly related to the act of playing a stringed instrument.
It was also in this moment that I first realized that the music I was writing would not achieve my goal of a triumphant climax. Rather, the players ascend to the upper register of their instruments with almost manic intensity, but for all of their fervor, the music only seems to strain toward a triumph that is not forthcoming, before lapsing into uncertain ambiguity. This left me with many unanswered questions, and I immediately felt I would need more movements to reckon with the emotional fallout.
The second movement, “Star Sapphire,” begins the process, taking motivic and harmonic material from the first movement and refracting it into a variety of slowly unfolding melodic lines and textures. “Quicksilver” sees the driving sixteenth notes return, but now with a jagged rhythmic edge. This short scherzo leads directly into the opening of “Black Diamond,” a dark passacaglia that develops into a fugue of dizzying instrumental virtuosity. Ultimately,
I was surprised when I finished this piece, as I had spent so long working to earn the triumphant climax that eluded me in the first movement. Yet when I followed my deepest musical instincts, the work proceeded along an entirely different path.
String Quartet No. 3 was generously commissioned by Astrid and John Baumgardner, to whom I am forever indebted, and is dedicated to my great friend and mentor, Chris Theofanidis. The first movement was premiered in June 2010 by the Tetra String Quartet, in the Sheldon Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The third movement was given its premiere by Quartetto Indaco in August 2016 at the HighScore Festival in Pavia, Italy. The work received its complete premiere by Quartet Metadata in November 2016. The second movement, "Star Sapphire" was awarded first prize in the 2016 National Association of Composers/USA Young Composers' Competition.
First Performance: November 17th, 2016
Morse Recital Hall, Yale University, New Haven, CT
Hajnal Pivnik, Anna Luce, violins
Carrie Frey, viola
Jisoo Ok, cello