I’ve crossed the tipping point in the composition of my fourth string quartet. After months of shifting things around into different combinations, all of the elements of the piece have fallen into their proper places. Now it’s just a matter of polishing the surfaces – making all the micro decisions that will help clarify the macro structure.
I had been planning for years to write a quartet that emphasized circular forms when, about a year ago, I came across Pascal’s reference to an “infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” That image clarified my thoughts, eventually leading to an enormous, 25-minute rondo made up of seven independent movements.
Rondo forms are characterized by a recurrent A theme interspersed with complementary Bs, Cs, and sometimes even Ds. My recurring A, though, is not a recurring theme
, but rather a recurring musical device
. The musical device is round technique – the type of circular imitation found in Row, Row, Row Your Boat
or Frère Jacques
– everyone sings the same thing over and over again, just starting at different times.
The complementary B, C and D sections are mini-rondo forms, 3-5 minutes each. The whole thing plays out in two movements:
1. Round - Rondo – Round – Rondo
2. Round – Rondo – Round
There are thematic recurrences among the various sections, so that the overall thematic structure is this:
A B C B D B A E F E F E
A G B G B A
The final round plays the first against its inversion. In addition, circular techniques abound on every level of the composition – three of the rounds feature imitation in a circle of fifths, and a recurrent coda section is nothing more than a circle of fifths that accelerates into tonal soup.
Finally, the whole piece, in keeping with the spirit of the Classical rondo, is indebted to the harmonies and rhythms of popular music. It’s easily the most jovial large-scale work I’ve ever produced.
Completion date: July 1.
Premiere: January 2010.