String Quartet No. 2, Op.56
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
Many of Poland's intelligentsia consider Szymanowski to be the link between Frederic Chopin and the important Polish contemporary avant-garde. Szymanowski's string quartets exemplify his personal style as surprisingly original in spite of occasional reminiscences of Debussy, Schoenberg and Bartok. While Szymanowski, influenced by German music, forced himself to use consistent musical patterns at an early stage, he turned to a freer, rhapsodic treatment of motives and texture later on, leaving the old formal principles behind as mere reminders of the past. Szymanowski is a master at producing a certain kind of floating, brilliant sound, using a whole set of playing techniques like artificial harmonics, sul ponticello, tremolo and dragged glissando. Expressive gestures such as hymnal upswing or a chromatic line downwards substitute fixed themes.
As late as 1927, he put the ideas of the fourth movement into a new quartet, the Quartet No. 2, Op. 56. At this time, Szymanowski's name was international and he was appointed director of the Warsaw conservatory. His use of original Polish folk music, which added a new, neo-classicistic nuance to his style, testifies to his commitment to the young Polish Republic. The pastoral music of the Goral people pervades his opera King Roger, his ballet Harnasie and the Scherzo of his Second String Quartet. Despite its smallish overall form, the piece appears more homogeneous than its predecessor. A floating tonality dominates both the first and last movements; a large-scale melody in the first violin and cello, varied and developed later on, above an iridescent sound carpet in the middle parts is characteristic of the first movement; the highly expressive genial combination of double fugue, sonata and variation form distinguishes the last.
Laura Kaminsky (b.1956)
Commissioned with support from the North Carolina Arts Council
Monotypes was inspired by a series of monoprints made by Edgar Degas in 1890. These highly expressive, free and semi-abstract works are not the typical Degas images that we know so well. There is an immediacy and an impulsiveness about them that is not found in the familiar ballet dancers, bathers and horses, yet these prints exhibit the same masterful craft of his other works. These monotypes are all nominally landscapes, but are, in many ways, as abstract as the works of the Color Field and Abstract Expressionist painters who made their work a half-century later. This thrilled me and sparked many musical ideas in response.
Each movement of the five-part quartet is my response to a single monotype, with the exception of "L'Esterel," which is a musical depiction of two prints of the same subject, one bold, the other a visual echo of the first. My intention is to create a set of pictures for the listener, using sound in lieu of color to create mood; musical texture to evoke the density of paint; and time, rather than a canvas, to determine the form.
String Quartet No. 2
Krzysztof Penderecki (b.1933)
The second string quartet of Penderecki is unashamedly experimental. Penderecki himself described this work as "rich and varied, although homogeneous." The three-part work was dedicated to Heinrich Strobel and was premiered by the Parrenin Quartet at the Berliner Festwochen in September, 1970 and specifically portrays the political unrest of 1968. As with the Quartet No. 1, experimental effects abound: at the very outset, whistling enriches a minor third cluster of semitones, string tremolos on the body of the violin, quarter tones, guitar-effect strummings and left-hand glissandos combined with the unwinding of the tuning-peg. Additionally, the musical content is complex and varied, and together serve to build up a drama capable of powerful and immediate effect. Evident in both scores is a unique "haste." To some extent, this is an outcome of tensions peculiar to the period in which Penderecki was writing. But it is also a mark of the composer's nature, manifested in the music's vivacity and eternal youthfulness.
Der Unterbrochene Gedanke
Penderecki's Der unterbrochene Gedanke (The Interrupted Thought) is a brief string quartet of approximately 2 1/2 minutes duration that was created in 1988 and dedicated to Arno Volk who was a director of the Schott music publishers and the first president of the Hindemith Foundation. This quartet utilizes a simple, symmetrical slow-fast-slow scheme like that of the String Quartet No. 2 and summarizes many of the stylisms that Penderecki had employed in his music of the 1970s and 80s. A low sighing pulse in the cello, marked "grave," is answered by melody notes in the viola, a chromatic figure in the second violin and a high harmonic in the first violin. The cello begins a trippingly articulated, chromatic theme, played allegretto, which is imitated by the other strings, grazioso scherzando. Suddenly the tempo becomes increasingly agitated, like a discomforting recollection, expressed in a violent, faster triple meter and then an on-rushing duple into a fff series of quick block harmonies. Everything is immediately cutoff, "interrupted," except for the initial low F tone in the cello. The other instruments answer with calming gentleness, at first melodically and then with repeated single notes, high harmonies, a chord that dissipates as simultaneous glissandi in ascending and descending directions and a final sustained light harmony above the cello tone.
String Quartet No. 3, Wycinanki
Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991)
Panufnik was a composer, pianist, conductor and pedagogue. He became established as one of the leading Polish composers, and as a conductor he was instrumental in the re-establishment of the Warsaw Philharmonic after World War II. After his increasing frustration with the extra musical demands made on him by the country's regime, he defected to England in 1954. He briefly became chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, a post he relinquished after two years to devote all his time to composition. Though dedicated to his two children, Panufnik's Third Quartet was commissioned for the London International String Quartet Competition and was given its official premiere by the winning ensemble, the Wihan Quartet, at the Barbican on April 15, 1991.
For his poetic inspiration, Panufnik returned to an aspect of folklore that had sparked his Sinfonia Rustica a full 43 years earlier. The quartet, he explained, "emerged from lifelong attachment to the rustic art of Poland, especially the paper-cuts (Wycinanki): symmetrical designs of magical abstract beauty and naïve charm. Wanting to transmogrify these small geometric structures into sound, I allowed myself to imagine five paper-cuts from different areas of Poland, strongly contrasted with each other in shape and color, each one also expressing the hidden character and temperament of the person who designed them." This idea allowed the composer to fashion five miniature studies, each designed to test a different aspect of quartet-playing skill. The first is a study in the control of volume and explores the simultaneous contrasts of more and less expressive playing styles, here particularized as vibrato and senza vibrato. The second study demonstrates rhythmic flexibility, singing quality of sound and warmth of lyrical expression. The third tests pizzicato nuances and accuracy in producing dynamic terraces without the slightest change of speed, and the furiously agitated fourth movement concentrates on precision, vigor, power and technical brilliance. The concluding study far transcends the associations of a test piece in its expressive intensity, incorporating a haunting canon between the two violins at a mere crotchet's distance, and calls for the fullest exploitation of all four instruments' dynamic range.
This modestly scaled masterpiece typifies Panufnik's obsessive love for the basic materials of music. Every interval, every sound in his music gives the impression of having been thought about, relished, touched and tasted, before it was considered worthy of inclusion. The expressive life that informs Panufnik's work at every turn speaks of a man like no other, whose devotion at once to the order of the cosmos, and to the emotions of us disorderly humans who live in it, exhilarates without bruising and edifies without pedantry.
Transpaining: Black Wings Has My Angel
Piotr Grella-Mozejko (b.1961)
Trancepaining (Black Wings Has My Angel)-String Quartet No. 3 was written in January and February of 2007. The work was commissioned by the Penderecki String Quartet with the assistance of The Canada Council for the Arts. The subtitle was taken from the cult roman noir by the U.S. writer Elliott Chaze: a brutal story of greed, blood, cruel love and, finally, deceit. But if the Chaze novel gave the initial impetus for writing, it was the current situation on the world stage which really influenced the music-if music be indeed capable of communicating such an influence. For Trancepaining is a voice of protest against the forces of malevolence raising their heads almost everywhere; it is a protest against all those Hitler-like tyrants springing up in the south, east and west, using their often unlimited powers to bleed nations in the name of freedom. The music reflects the anger all those who believe in humanity must feel while witnessing the slaughter of the innocents. But it also tries to give the cathartic experience, not unlike that the ancient Greek audiences must have experienced while partaking in performances of Schylus, Sophocles and Euripides, in which portrayals of violence-intermixing music and word, trance and pain-led to purification of minds.
Born in Poland and living in Canada since 1989, Piotr Grella-Mozejko holds an M.Mus. in Composition degree from University of Alberta in Edmonton. Piotr's works have been broadcast and performed at numerous festivals across North America, Europe and Asia. Currently General Manager of the Edmonton Composers' Concert Society, Grella-Mozejko is also producer of the New Music Alberta concert series and editor of The Alberta New Music & Arts Review.