Total Internal Reflection
for string quartet(2013)
|Commission||Commissioned by Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and the Aspen Music Festival and School, Robert Spano, Music Director|
|Premiere||June 11, 2013; Great Lakes Music Festival, Southfield, MI; Jupiter String Quartet|
“Total Internal Reflection” is a term used in physics to describe a phenomenon where light is reflected back upon itself rather than passing through a medium boundary. This happens when the light source comes from within a medium whose density is greater than that of the medium at which it is pointed, and when the angle of incidence is greater than the so-called critical angle. When these conditions are met, the light wave will not be refracted at all through the medium boundary, but is instead totally internally reflected.
I used the term “Total Internal Reflection” as a title for my string quartet because it was evocative of how I imagine my process of writing, especially in the way I relate to music of the past. I cannot help composing in response to the music I know and love. The string quartet has a particularly rich repertoire and history. The masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Debussy, and many others are inescapable when sitting down to write a new work for this ensemble. But I imagine myself within my own present, aiming my creative angle at the past in such a way that my materials will bounce back to me totally. They have come in contact with the medium boundary, but they must come back still my own: a look within myself via my own light source, bounced back at me by my experience of the music I know and admire so deeply.
I use no quotes in this piece, and the music’s motivic evolution is very peculiar to my own vocabulary. But the constant flirtation with tonality, form, and structure recalls music of an earlier time. These pillars of musical construction are used as surfaces off which my music may glance, totally internally reflected.