• Gunther Schuller
  • String Quartet No. 5 (2013)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)

Unavailable for performance.

  • 2vn, va, vc
  • 19 min 30 s

Programme Note

The Miró Quartet introduces and performs Gunther Schuller's String Quartet No. 5
Composer note:

The Quartet begins with a maximum explosion, both rhythmically and dynamically, that a mere four string instruments can produce, albeit calming down rather quickly into a more relaxed mood and greatly reduced complexity. In the course of the first movement's unfolding the listener encounters subtle allusions to a) jazz, i.e. swing, b) a leisurely waltz section (marked Valse lente), and c) to sudden unexpected contrasts: contrasts of wood, of great intensity being suddenly interrupted by seemingly totally unrelated calmer segments. It is as if the prevailing music is suddenly interrupted by music from another piece — from another planet.

I also often indulge in the first movement in what I call a "polyphony of rhythms," where three or four layerings of different rhythms occur simultaneously. (Debussy was the first to play such rhythmic games a hundred years ago [1913] in his ballet music Jeux, where triplets, quintuplets, duplets, sextuplets occur simultaneously.)

The second movement starts with an a cappella solo viola, in a rather melancholy mood, which, strangely enough, suddenly elides into a Scherzando leggiero, a lighthearted sequence, full again of drastic dynamic changes, also a section where the strings play around with a left-hand pizzicato effect that Paganini invented, alternating rapidly between bowed and plucked notes-a lot like a torrent of rain drops. The scherzo suddenly becomes very heavy, weighty, and returns to the viola's melancholy opening, now played a cappella by the first violin and in both in retrograde and in inversion.

The third movement, Intermezzo leggiero is again in a lighter mood, also playing around with rhythmic meter changes, from the usual 4/4s and 3/4s to 10/8, 11/8, 14/8 dance rhythms, very popular in Balkan countries. I also take some basic thematic/motivic material, and mis- and displace it into the "wrong" part of the measure. (Ives did a lot of this in his music, and Brahms did so even earlier, in the late nineteenth century.)

The fourth movement begins as a tumultuous Presto, also later using a "walking bass," borrowed from jazz, now played pizzicato by the cello. Occasionally you'll hear some quarter tones. (Please don't think that the players are playing out of tune.) Lastly, I ended the quartet with a very ordinary "classical" ending, at least in its rhythms. Even Mozart could almost have written it, in one of his more boisterous moods. I've been wanting to do this for several decades. Enjoy!

— Gunther Schuller