Performed by Justyna Jara (violin), Elizabeth Derham (violin), Isabel Hagen (viola) and Sofia Nowik (cello).
I have always been fascinated by the sound of string quartets, that highly expressive yearning of each instrument blending so well with others to produce a unified expression. Inspired by the ensemble’s power to convey a wide range of emotions, I set out to write a piece that focuses on two contrasting characters. On one hand, an expressive sense of longing, often felt in slow movements of more traditional string music, and on the other, an energetic and aggressive character that continuously moves forward in a dissonant, yet exciting, musical storyline.
The first and third movements fall in the first category, and are related by sharing the main theme, a romantic melody beginning with a four-note motif that begins and ends both movements. This theme is developed and dramatized in the first movement, until a main statement in the climax, which immediately resolves into a closing. The third movement in a way is an inversion of the first – an inversion not of only pitch, but also of meter and mode. Unlike the first movement, which is set out in F minor, the third movement is primarily centered around A flat major, developing the main theme in its pseudo-inversion. The movement then closes by the first violin stating the main theme in its original form, in the home key of F, but this last time, in the major mode – portraying a bitter-sweet farewell.
The second and fourth movements fall in the exciting and energetic category, and are also related by character and thematic material. Both movements draw extensively from modes and melodic characteristics of Persian traditional music. They each have their own primary theme, but also share as secondary theme a variation of the four-note motif developed in the first and third movements. In a way, this motif that started the piece acts as a unifying element across all movements.