• Bright Sheng
  • String Quartet No. 5, "The Miraculous" (2007)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)
  • 2 vn, va, vc
  • 18 min

Programme Note

18 October 2007
Emerson String Quartet
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY

Composer Note:
“The Miraculous,” written between March and July, 2007, was co-commissioned for the Emerson String Quartet by the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stanford University, and the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan. It is being premiered by the Emerson String Quartet tonight, October 18th, 2007. The work is dedicated to the Emerson String Quartet.

The subtitle of String Quartet No. 5, “The Miraculous,” is inspired by two sources. Firstly, it is quite unusual to hear a string quartet in which each member is not only a splendid virtuoso, but also a passionate and superb musician. That was the thought went through my mind when I first heard them in the summer of 1983 at Aspen Music Festival where I was a student, new in this country. Throughout its two-and-half decades, the Emerson’s performances have become greatly more profound: yet they have not lost any of their passion and virtuosity.

The second inspiration comes from Bela Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin Suite, which I conducted in early 2007. Although I was always fond of the work, it was only when I was preparing to conduct it did I truly appreciate what Bartok attempted to achieve musically. On the one hand, I do not agree Bartok’s almost-racist interpretation of what he saw as a “miraculous mandarin.” On the other hand, I marvel at Bartok’s composition with its swift change of images and constant varying of the tempi-in many sections, which add up to more than two-thirds of the work, almost every measure is in a different tempo. While writing this piece, I asked myself if I could achieve more or less the same “miraculous” effect without imitating Bartok’s devices.

String Quartet No. 5 is based on two very different musical motifs, like two strangers from different cultural backgrounds who meet and become fast lovers. Throughout their courtship, neither of them changes but they get to know and understand each other on a much deeper level. Most importantly, they learn to happily live with each other.

—Bright Sheng