An Index of Peculiar Strokes
for string quartet(2011)
|Commission||Commissioned by the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts for the Jasper Quartet and by the Bennington Chamber Music Conference and Composers’ Forum of the East|
|Premiere||August 4, 2011; Katonah, New York, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts; Jasper String Quartet|
Writing a string quartet is a daunting task. The history of this ensemble is long and rich, its repertoire vast and densely packed with major statements by major composers. To write a quartet is to willingly put oneself in the ring with the big boys, and thus I have avoided it for as long as possible. But the opportunity to write for the Jasper Quartet was too good to pass up, and I figured it was about time I gave the medium a try.
And what I tried to do was to write the most "un-quartety" quartet I could imagine. Where so many quartets think big, with sprawling, formally complex movements and large-scale rhetorical arcs, mine aims small, with seven bite-size morsels of the blink-and-you-miss-them variety. So many composers, from Haydn and Mozart forward, conceive of the medium as four equal voices asserting their independence through witty and learned dialogue; I tried to erase the individuality of the voices as much as I could, creating a "meta-instrument" out of the four musicians that thinks and plays as one. And while so many quartets foreground the lyrical, linear, singing qualities of string instruments, I focused on their percussive possibilities.
I am an amateur violist, and while I'm not very good at making beautiful sounds on my instrument, I do love exploring wacky ways that the bow can make contact with the strings. For me there is something magical about the wide range of sonic possibilities available through the manipulation of the smallest physical variables--the balance of weight in the fingers of the right hand, the placement of the bow a fraction of an inch closer or farther from the bridge. Each of these small changes opens up a whole world of unique sounds, and each of the movements of this piece explores one of those worlds using a different, slightly peculiar, off-the-beaten-path bow stroke.
- Andrew Norman