ensemble string quartet
duration 23 minutes
written spring 2015
written for Takács Quartet
commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Shriver Hall
premièred November 15, 2015, Shriver Hall, Baltimore, MD
published by Andres & Sons Bakery
I’ve been increasingly obsessed with the idea that longer pieces can actually be made out of less stuff as a way of supporting the weight of their structures. By “stuff” I don’t mean narrative drama—a lot can happen in 25 minutes—but actual musical ideas. Strong Language has three movements and exactly three musical ideas.
“Middens” starts with a simple, undulating melody, played unaccompanied. Sonic detritus gradually accrues underneath each pile of notes. With each repetition of the melody, the piles grow taller.
“Origin Story” ventures outward from a static d-minor triad: first in recalcitrant half-steps and little by little further afield. As the instruments gain confidence with repetition, they coagulate into an unstoppable melodic sequence. Each time it is played, the sequence shrinks a bar, cramming ever-increasing contrapuntal complexity into a smaller and smaller space.
“Gentle Cycling” reverses the process of “Middens”, coaxing an expressive viola and ‘cello duet from a spectral landscape of plucks, scrapes, and knocks.