• John Harbison
  • String Quartet No. 1 (1985)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 2vn.va.vc
  • 12 min

Programme Note

Composer note:

1. Allegro quasi amabile
2. Andante aspro ed intimo
3. Presto fugitive

String Quartet No.1, is dedicated to the Cleveland Quartet, who gave its first performance in the Corcoran Gallery, Washington. It was composed at Token Creek, Wisconsin, in the winter of 1984.

Since length and even loudness are often equated with import, it takes some nerve to present an eleven minute piece, mainly in an inward manner, as first quartet. The compression is required by the derivation of every detail strictly from the first few notes. Pieces of this kind, the Copland Piano Variations, the Webern Concerto for Nine Instruments, certain Beethoven movements, tend to be short and waste no motion. I have always been partial to such pieces, but this piece, written very quickly, urgently, and decisively, is my first to embrace the approach.

Since every chord, melody and accompaniment is so closely related, the method moves toward serialism – a tendency confirmed by subsequent pieces.

The movement breaks are important punctuations, but do not interrupt the mood. This mood seems to me to contain elements of disillusion, meditative transport, and the kind of many-colored conversation which makes the quartet medium so precious to composers.

—John Harbison