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Name of Work

Rorem, Ned (1923-)
String Quartet No. 3 (1990)

Scherzo - Sarabande - Scherzo
Dirge - Dance - Dirge


May 22, 2005

Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Sophie Shao, Cello

ROREM-String Quartet No. 3 (1990)

Composed in 1990

There is no First Quartet. Well, actually there is, but it's a student endeavor stashed forever in a drawer with many another of my opus-minus-ones. However, since my first real string quartet, which dates from 1950, is published under the title "Second Quartet," I have no choice but to name the present work "Third Quartet." Forty years separate these two pieces. The interim contains a hefty amount of chamber music, much of it including, but none of it exclusively for, string quartet.

The "Third Quartet" comprises the following sections: Chaconne, Scherzo-Sarabande-Scherzo, Dirge-Dance-Dirge, Epitaph, and Dervish.

The Chaconne’s "ground," uttered in the high reaches of the second violin, is a sequence of twelve notes (B, F-sharp, A, F, B-flat, E, E-flat, D, A-flat, G, C, C-sharp) requiring one slow measure apiece. The resulting dozen measures are repeated seven times, unchanged and expressionless as the sky. Against this neutral background ambiguous disturbances occur: is the first violin an eagle swerving? Is the viola a block of clouds and the cello an oceanic eruption? These disturbances combine, agitate, and eventually fade as they had come, while the indifferent sky remains forever. The musical material is all derived from the "sky" motif, but played backward by the first violin, and radically transposed — and sometimes upside-down — by viola and cello.

The plucked tune tossed about through the second movement is again derived from the original twelve tones. Counterpointing this is a scurrying figure of five descending notes, which, after ninety seconds, subsides into a formal Sarabande — actually the Scherzo in slow motion. After two and a half minutes, the Sarabande melts back into its former whispering shape.

Dirge is concocted from a roughish two-bar chorale stated thrice, each statement followed by a solo cadenza. Now comes a second theme, spacious and sustained, accompanied by a murmur growing toward a torrent that finally bursts into a rhythmic dance. The Dance is a sped-up — a "released" —version of the Dirge to which, for reasons of proprietary symmetry, it returns, and all ends softly.

Epitaph, brief and motionless, is a song without words depicting a child's tombstone on a sunny afternoon. Dervish is a perpetuum mobile surrounding a canon based on the "sky" motif which, after persistent reiterations, whirls to a close.

The foregoing information is more visually illustrative than is my wont when discussing nonvocal music, but lately I've found such descriptions useful. Hitherto my habit has been to give just the facts, such as: the Third Quartet, a thirty-minute piece in five movements, was commissioned by the June Festival of Albuquerque as a gift for the Guarneri Quartet. It was composed during the last five months of 1990, in Nantucket, Saratoga Springs, and New York.

Program Notes by Ned Rorem

Performed May 22, 2005

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