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Triple Quartet


The initial inspiration for the piece comes from the last movement of Bartók’s Fourth Quartet. While no musical material is taken from the Bartók, its energy was my starting point. While working on Triple Quartet, two other composers found their way into my consciousness. As I was beginning the piece my friend Betty Freeman sent me a CD of the complete Schnittke string quartets. I had never heard a note of his music. In listening to his quartets I was struck by his virtuosity and moved by the incredible Mesto of his Second Quartet. Listening to the ‘density’ of his music goaded me to thicken my own plot harmonically and melodically. Rhythmically, the second and third quartets play in conflicting values partly inspired by Michael Gordon’s Yo Shakespeare. The result, all in all, is a piece considerably fore dissonant and expressionistic than expected.

The piece is in three movements (fast-slow-fast) and is organized harmonically on four dominant chords in minor keys a minor third apart: E minor, G minor, B flat minor, C sharp minor, and then returning to E minor to form a cycle. The first movement goes through this harmonic cycle twice with a section about one minute long on each of the four dominant chords. The result is a kind of variation form.

Rhythmically the first movement has the second and third quartet playing interlocking chords while the first quartet plays longer melodies in canon between the first violin and viola against the second violin and cello.

The slow movement is more completely contrapuntal with a long slow melody in canon eventually in all 12 voices. It stays in E minor throughout.

The third movement resumes the original fast tempo and maintains the harmonic chord cycle, but modulates back and forth between keys more rapidly. The final section of the movement is in the initial key of E minor, and there the piece finally cadences.

Triple Quartet was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, David A and Evelyne T Lennette, Patricia Unterman and Tim Savinar, and Meet the Composer/Arts Endowment Commissioning Music/USA, which is made possible by generous support from the Helen F. Whitaker Fund, and the Catherine Filene Shouse Foundation.

from notes by Steve Reich © 2005


Reich: Different Trains, Triple Quartet & Duet
SIGCD064Download only


Movement 1: [untitled]
Track 1 on SIGCD064 [7'11] Download only
Movement 2: [untitled]
Track 2 on SIGCD064 [4'05] Download only
Movement 3: [untitled]
Track 3 on SIGCD064 [3'31] Download only

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