Hyperion Records

Already it is dusk 'String Quartet No 1', Op 62
composer
1988; commissioned and first performed by the Kronos Quartet

Recordings
'Górecki: String Quartets' (CDA67812)
Górecki: String Quartets
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Track 1 on CDA67812 CD1 [15'43] 2CDs for the price of 1

Already it is dusk 'String Quartet No 1', Op 62
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Górecki’s interest in chamber music, which culminated in his string quartets (1988, 1991 and 1995/2005), began in his student days. It resurfaced in his Little Music series (1967–70), but was superseded in the 1970s and early 1980s by his focus on sacred and choral music. During a bout of ill health in the 1980s he was commissioned to write a piano trio, Recitatives and Ariosos: Lerchenmusik (1984–6). This was soon followed by a request from the Kronos Quartet of San Francisco, who commissioned and premiered all three of the quartets (it appears that a fourth quartet was left incomplete at the time of his death). These chamber pieces signalled a new creative phase in his music.

Each of the quartets has a descriptive title. The first, Already it is dusk, is a variant of the opening line of a motet—A prayer for children going to sleep—by the Polish Renaissance composer, Waclaw z Szamotul (c1524– c1560):

Already dusk is falling, night closes in,
Let us beseech the Lord for help,
To be our guardian,
To protect us from wicked devils,
Who especially under cover of darkness
Profit from their cunning.

The thread of childhood runs through many of Górecki’s pieces (often by means of the lullaby texture of alternating chords), and it is not far-fetched here to see the warning about evil as a metaphor for life in then-communist Poland. The real significance, however, is musical: Górecki took the tenor line from this motet and used it as the thematic material presented shortly after the start of the quartet.

Already it is dusk begins with a resonant open fifth, symbolizing the composer’s absorption in Polish folk music. This is contrasted with a strained canonic texture using the tenor line from the motet in a combination of inverted and retrograde forms (this is a throwback to Górecki’s twelve-note interests). The intercutting of these two contrasting ideas, one vertical, the other linear, constitutes the first section of the quartet. At each appearance the fifths become more strident and confrontational, while the canon is lengthened and seems more introspective. Such stark contrasts had been at the heart of Górecki’s compositional thinking in the 1950s and 1960s and re-emerged in his chamber music in the mid-1980s.

The main section reinvents the confrontational dissonance as a vigorous backdrop to a folk-derived theme, with its repetitions, developing melodic profile, and vigorous duetting between the violin and viola–cello pairings. Out of this emerges a homophonic texture whose playing instructions (Martellando—Tempestoso, followed by con massima passione—con massima espressione) are typical of Górecki’s desire to exploit extreme dynamic ranges. This chordal section seems to create the idea of a folk drone without the melody. At its climax the opening perfect fifth reappears and ushers in a reminder of the canonic idea, before a sequence of major triads (in second inversion not root position, so implying an element of incompletion) quietly concludes the quartet (ma ben sonore—ARMONIA).

from notes by Adrian Thomas © 2011

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