Ladies and gentlemen, for your St. Patrick’s Day dining and dancing pleasure, here is the fourth movement of Ben Johnston’s String Quartet No. 10. I think you will recognize the melody although it doesn’t become obvious until near the end.
(Click the link to play)
Here are Ben’s notes on why he selected this particular melody:
This theme embodies certain contradictions which allow me to make a sincere, precise statement, much in the manner of a fine stand-up comedian. I am myself descended from the British Isles, and have read extensively about the pre-Christian civilization, which was eventually outdistanced by St. Patrick and all the rest… any objective tribute involves some irony, looking at the sum total; how the difficult history was eventually commercialized- compromises made but the spirit undefeated.
I used this theme-without-variations to create a variations-without a-theme, focusing attention on the surface while carefully concealing the tune- developing it with derivations subtle and complex, in a harmonically intense way from Medieval to the present, finally revealed in a cathartic way, and followed by a popularized, sarcastic version– a tune and a walking bass. In effect, the magic is gone, a sad commentary on the way Western civilization works. At the same time, a bitter, and uplifting statement.
Read more about the Kepler Quartet’s recording of String Quartets 1, 5 and 10.