Quartet #9, in Bb "Xaos"
Quartet #9, in Bb - I Romance 7:18
Quartet #9, in Bb - II Childe Harold to the Dark Tower Came 14:27
Quartet #9, in Bb - III Agnus Dei (Non-linear counterpoint) 4:31
Quartet #9, in Bb - IV Fantasia (Flight) 7:46
While four movements are traditional in classical music since Haydn created a mysterious balance of a complex developmental movement, a slow movement, a dance and a looser finale - this custom has been diverged away from for over a century. But within the four movement world, like the Ruy Lopez opening in chess, there is a particular search for symmetry, and always trying to find the right note, the right movement to follow the next.
The Romance is a tender and melodic slow movement, the call of nature and of the sweet winds that bring sweet rains, only to have the clouds open up and reveal the bustle of the city of god that moves the cosmos.
There was something Byronic about Oldman, brooding on his past and future, and facing forward to the darkness that shrouds the future in uncertainty. it was a natural thing to write a movement that riffed off of Browing and Byron - Childe Harold to the Dark Tower Came. And it is indeed a quest in music, with the slow unravelling of the filaments that hide a mystery beneath them, brutal encounters in the dark, joyous reunions and finally, victory.
The first movement completed was "Non-linear counterpoint", a very direct expression of loss, simple, clear, direct and hymn like.
The last movement "Fantasia", let free the spirit to hover over the world, touching here and there, looking down on everyone who wrestles with a bit of knowledge, trying to pry another secret loose. It is winged music, of unimpeded intellectual energy, but suffused with the melodic quest for a more perfect beauty.
If the quartet is "about" anything it is the non-linear nature of knowledge and the quest to combine the sciences with a new mathematics. Long time listeners to my music will notice the overt use of minimalism, and it seems a reasonable place to make note of this. Minimalism is a movement in the arts towards a sharp edged modernism. The early modernism, while it had a radical simplification of gesture, favored uneven edges and even at its geometric, a kind of organic gesturalism. With Mondrian, Sol Lewit and others, there began a drive to express in pure lines and sharp blocks. In music this idea was reflected in music post-Cage towards directness.
Minimalism is, like the blues and rock, simply part of the musical vocabulary of our age, it also represents the "liberation of consonance" - to match the early 20th century's liberation of dissonance. The most important thing about it is that its melodies imply a different harmonic backdrop. Composers struggled with this, these melodies did not harmonize in the traditional ways. So, as happened several times before - they went back to imitative counterpoint and simplicity of texture, until such time as the means of harmonizing these ideas began to appear. I don't listen to most minimalist works long, as soon as the melodic materializes, I'm ready to turn it off, so often the obvious implications are not worked out, and the large scale structures are left, lying there, begging to be released from the chug chug underpinnings. Hence my music often has a great deal of minimalist surface, but it makes hard core minimalist devotees agitated. One person who had followed Glass since Einstien grew angry at my music - he said it was a betrayal of what minimalism stands for. If it is an ism, then count me a heretic to it.
String Quartet #10, in G "The Neo-Classical"
Quartet #10, in G - I Nachtsmusick 6:30
Quartet #10, in G - II Adagio 2:47
Quartet #10, in G - III Scherzo 6:49
Quartet #10, in G - IV Festivals 5:47
Come to the sunny 20th century, filled with bright open spaces and happy dissonance, or so the travel guides read. Sometimes it is necessary to take a vacation in the past, even if one is writing for the present. This short quartet is filled with space and simplicity, even as the quartet before was filled with complex swirls of shadow and darkness.
The phrase neo-classical has been applied to architecture - of the 18th century, economics post the "marginal revolution", to music and art in the 20th century to describe a kind of angular return to clarity. This quartet touches on all of these uses. The first movement is with violinists in wigs playing by candle light, with pages of hand written notes in wet ink. The second movement touches on the "modernism" of simplicity - of Brecht, Weill, Virgil Thompson and others who wrote in long arcs and achingly plain rhetoric.
The third movement recalls ballet music for Diaghlev's famous troop - which had painters, writers, dancers, composers of the highest quality - but could not always find the choreography to match the brilliant conceptions that they had. The movement dances, with a Stravinskian harlequin spinning his way through into the last movement. The festival's movement is neo-classicism of a different kind, related far more to the sound world of Jean Sibelius, who sought severity of form as his classical pole star, along with a kind of forceful and direct counterpoint.
The modern is, for me, the past. Indeed it seems longer ago than the Victorian did in my childhood. Every day I am reminded that when I was young it was possible to be truly alone, and now, we are tracked everywhere, and traceable at almost every minute. That kind of solitude has a value that is beginning to weigh on my thoughts, and perhaps to go to some place where it is still attainable.
In any event, it has been a year of six string quartets - in F#, Db, Eb, B, Eb and G - almost three hours of them. It's time for me to let the genre rest. Next year's plan is for chamber music, including piano trios, cello sonatas, and at least one violin sonata. It needs doing, these old classical forms, so that we may speak through the wisdom of the ages, and share the stage with giants of the past.
As I said, this will probably interest no one but me, but there is a desperate need to remember that politics is about the rest of what we do. Without art, science, letters and education, politics is a hollow thing indeed. For me the numbers crunching of business and economics is one kind of joy, but there is a bright fierce joy in setting notes to paper, with the suspicion that in a hundred years time no one will care about the labor department figures for payroll positions, but they might well care about this.