Hyperion Records

String Quartet No 1
1960; first performed in Cincinnati by the LaSalle Quartet in 1962

'Penderecki & Lutosławski: String Quartets' (CDA67943)
Penderecki & Lutosławski: String Quartets
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Track 1 on CDA67943 [7'01]

String Quartet No 1
Penderecki’s String Quartet No 1, which was premiered in Cincinnati in 1962 by the LaSalle Quartet, is one of the group of works from 1960–62 that secured his international reputation. It is also the shortest, but it packs a punch in its seven minutes. It is formed of two panels, roughly equal in length, of which the first provides material for the second. This material consists not of melodies, harmonies or regular metres and rhythms but of a range of unconventional sounds measured against nominal one-second ‘barlines’. This sound-world became known within Poland as ‘sonorism’, an approach to composition that broke with tradition wherever possible.

The first panel opens with a challenging instruction for the players to perform tremolo without using the bow. As their lines develop into glissandi, Penderecki begins a series of slow-burning interpenetrations of ideas as various as playing between the bridge and the tailpiece, striking the strings with the palm of the hand, hitting the strings col legno (with the wooden back of the bow) and playing the highest possible note pizzicato. The music slows perceptibly through longer note values, then pauses.

The second panel presents the ensemble in a more uniform light. Different sonoristic textures are explored in soundblocks, sequentially rather than simultaneously. Penderecki also introduces new sounds, such as bows playing on the tailpiece of the instruments. Despite a brief return to the heterogeneous textures of the first panel, the impression is one of the isolated dispersal of its elements, rather than any attempt at conventional coherence.

from notes by Adrian Thomas © 2013

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