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The Four Quarters


The Four Quarters (2011) has an Arcadian model of brilliant evocation by means of tight construction, the central metaphor being the diurnal cycle. ‘Nightfalls’, the first movement, opens on two planes, the violins playing harmonics in a regular pattern of short-short-long while the viola and cello are in harmony, far below and slower. These planes are utterly distinct, and yet they seem not only to complement but also to resemble one another, in that the intervals on which the violins keep hesitating are also those with and towards which the lower instruments grope. More than that, the scintillant anapaest that the violins go on turning (Adès suggests it may also be heard as a dactyl, long-short-short) seems to be a basic motif for the whole quartet, one that will be refracted and reflected through different rotating prisms as the work unfolds. Here it makes a slow journey downwards, into the second violin and viola parts, leaving the first violin to join the cello in harmony. A more turbulent energy carries the music up again, and the violins reprise their chain of lights, which so quickly turns into nocturnal harmony in up to seven parts. This also rises, in register and agitation, to precipitate another short reprise, and the lights, perhaps now identifiable as stars, are still there at the darkening close.

All the remaining movements are shorter, ‘Morning Dew’ being emphatically the scherzo, mostly pizzicato. Though Adès in this work maintains the same time signatures in all parts, the four instruments are on their own tracks through stretches of this movement, now and then arriving at the same spot with some surprise, but then happily joining in a bit of ostinato. The second time this happens, the first violin goes off into bowed playing, followed by the others, still otherwise independent, but they cannot get the old music out of their fingers.

‘Days’ is a study in monotony, but within a context, of course, of constant change. The second violin begins by repeating middle C sharp to a repeating rhythm of short-short-long, short-long, short-long, short-long (thirteen beats, therefore), placed against a shifting frame of time signatures, the other instruments playing in harmony mostly below, until they are drawn into the second violin’s rhythm and disturb its equanimity. After this it is scalewise motion that comes forward as an alternative, until, startlingly, everyone arrives at fortissimo chords on the nagging thirteen-beat rhythm. Then quiet again, the music unwinds.

Finally, ‘The Twenty-Fifth Hour’, in a time outside time, restores high-treble lustre and dance, the time signature of 25/16 being divided into groups of 8+3+8+6. Now one may feel not only that the violin-harmonic image from the first movement is back but that it has grown into a bright melody, spinning in changing harmonic currents, resolving at times into scales, speeding up, reaching into a passage of magnificent triadic harmony, slowing down again and coming to stillness on a D major chord so beautiful it just has to be repeated.

from notes by Paul Griffiths © 2015


Adès: The twenty-fifth hour & other chamber music
Studio Master: SIGCD413Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


No 1: Nightfalls
Track 4 on SIGCD413 [7'06] Download only
No 2: Serenade: Morning dew
Track 5 on SIGCD413 [3'12] Download only
No 3: Days
Track 6 on SIGCD413 [3'50] Download only
No 4: The twenty-fifth hour
Track 7 on SIGCD413 [3'51] Download only

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