Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartet No. 3 (1991/92)
One feature of my artistic development has been to continually probe new areas of the imagination in some of my works and to integrate my discoveries as organically as possible into my previous experiences. My String Quartet No. 3 unquestionably belongs to the latter phase.
The elements of non-European music that occupied me in many different ways in my first two quartets play a subordinate role in this one. It consists of six brief movements in which everything is aligned on a sharp, clear delineation of sometimes highly contrasting characters, and on a concise presentation of the music, which is often highly expressive.
The first movement is marked by a pair of
antitheses: a furioso, and a somewhat calmer melodious passage. Both recur many times in a great many guises.
In the first section of movement 2, a pianissimo passage played at the bridge spreads out ever more widely above even crotchets in the cello. In the concluding section it recurs sul ponticello and fades away in pianissimo. The two sections include a melodious episode with allusions to one of my Slovakian Memories of Childhood (Slowakische Erinnerungen aus der Kindheit).
The especially intricate third movement is marked by a wide range of changing characters. In one of the sections, a line inspired by motifs from Central Africa is woven into the viola part.
The fourth movement, Intermezzo, comes from an area I once referred to as my “Janá?ek complex”. Expressive syncopated figures alternate with rapid scurrying spiccato and a calm, flowing motion.
In the fifth movement, a melody heard first in the viola and then in the high-register violin moves above even quavers in the other instruments. The cello briefly quotes a motif from Papuan music. The movement ends fortissimo with the above-mentioned quaver motion. It then proceeds attacca into the final movement, a sort of perpetuo mobile. Everything takes place at breakneck speed piano and pianissimo, as the eeriness comes to an end.
String Quartet No. 4 (2001)
If the six movements of my String Quartet No. 3, despite their intricacy, formed self-contained entities with identifying characters, the String Quartet No. 4, though it likewise has sections of contrast, has so many cross-relations from reminiscences, allusions and reprises that the overall impression is one of a cohesive organism.
A very slow introduction states the piece’s characteristic series of intervals. It is followed by a fairly long furioso section in triple forte in which all four instruments play strings of semiquavers interspersed with rests. Finally a snippet remains suspended; it is repeated mezzo-forte, after which the triple forte resumes.
This procedure sets in motion a process in which the furioso sections between the repeated snippets become shorter and shorter while the number of notes in the snippets becomes smaller and smaller. At the same time, the number of repetitions increases until, at the end, a snippet of only three notes is repeated 15 times. As a result, the listener gradually becomes aware of, and sees through, the course of the process.
The introduction is then followed by a slow section. However, the motion accelerates and turns into a fast passage in which small islands of forte and fortissimo suddenly emerge from the events.
A ritardando then leads to a very slow “movement” (con sordino) in which restless rapid figures recalling the previous events are interpolated in all instruments (sections 1 and 3).
In the next section, two passages marked Energico marcato frame a calm middle passage that leads to a recapitulation of the furioso section. Here the process described above is repeated, but truncated and, of course, not note for note. At the end, the music leads to a sustained final section of “utmost calm”, in which a few rapid isolated figures recall the slow middle “movement”. The piece fades away in even crotchets interspersed with rests.
Eight Movements after Hölderlin Fragments for String Sextet (1995)
In 1994, I repeatedly read the complete Hölderlin and jotted down many speech-melodies from the verses. Because I never intended the texts to be sung, I put the melodies into increasingly stylised music. The commission to write a string sextet initially led me to the idea of developing the musical fabric directly from the lilt of the language. But this procedure soon proved to be too narrow, and I returned to my speech-melodies and expanded on them in a very free and highly stylised way, except in the final movement, which, in its monomaniacal bearing, is entirely independent of the inflection of the text.
A very slow first movement of strangely bright gloom is followed by a five-part second movement in which the events are variably governed by rapid dramatic twists and a calm, flowing motion. The slow third movement sounds pale and ethereal. The fourth is a Presto misterioso whose madcap motion is perhaps inspired by that of “water”.
The very calm fifth movement is dominated by a “significance motif” that enters marcato – a line played by the violin and cello and a motif constantly erupting in the viola. The sixth movement is characterised by savage restlessness, a rapid alternation of rhythms and frequent changes of metre, interrupted by a calm central section.
Its return leads to the very calm and placid seventh movement, which elides seamlessly with the eighth and final movement. Here the pulse vanishes, as do tonal centres and thematic formations. The movement is marked by glissandos, long sustained notes and rapid ornamental figures, seemingly circling a single pitch and distantly recalling non-European music. It opens in a very high register and moves constantly but almost imperceptibly downward in a large crescendo, only to end diminuendo in deepest gloom.
At the end I posed the question – one I cannot readily answer – of whether it makes sense to provide the listener and the performers with the texts I proceeded from, particularly as we are not dealing in any way with programme music. I did so because I see in them an indication of the basic emotional stance of each movement, and because I did not want to conceal such an important source for my work.
Translation: J. Bradford Robinson
Works on This Recording
Quartet for Strings no 3 by Friedrich Cerha
Period: 20th Century
Movements (8) after Hölderlin Fragments by Friedrich Cerha
Period: 20th Century
Quartet for Strings no 4 by Friedrich Cerha
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