Quartet in G minor for 2 Violas and 2 Violoncelli

Movements:

1.  Allegro energico

2.  Andante un poco adagio

3.  Menuetto:  Allegro

4.  Presto

Style:  Late Classical, ca. 1790-1800

Composed:  3 August – 6 December, 2018 at Austin

Here they are then,…dearest Friend, these six children of mine. They are, it is true, the fruit of a long and laborious endeavour, yet the hope inspired in me by several Friends that it may be at least partly compensated encourages me, and I flatter myself that this offspring will serve to afford me solace one day.  –W.A. Mozart, Published Letter of Dedication, Six String Quartets to Haydn, 1 September, 1785 

I quote Mozart here because his sentiments are very much my own regarding the Six Quartets I composed last year for 2 Violas and 2 Violoncelli, of which the present posting is but one example; though it is one of the best, choosing it to post from among the others in the set was like choosing a favourite of my children.  Though Mozart expresses himself with a humility uncommon for him, he clearly was proud of his work, as I am of mine.  Indeed, I consider my Quartets to be my magnum opus to date – the most important and highest quality work I have ever produced, and the crowning achievement of decades as a composer.   

Having researched the matter to some degree, to my knowledge no other composer has attempted a work for this combination of instruments, hence mine are likely unique in the chamber music repertoire.  Despite being unusual, I have found the combination of pairs of violas and ‘cellos, though not without its challenges and limitations, to be very successful and pleasing, and I hope you will agree.  The 1st Viola and 1st ‘Cello take the lead a fair amount of the time, and the instruments also operate in pairs as one might expect, but much of the time the ensemble is a cohesive whole, with all the instruments more or less equal. 

The character of this work is fraught with frenetic energy and angst, particularly in the fast and furious outer movements – even in moments of relative calm, the forward motion is relentless.  The easygoing second movement is a comparative walk in the park, moving leisurely along.  The third movement is a nervous, jumpy minuet, punctuated by forte diminished chords; the Trio alla ghironda (in the style of a hurdy gurdy) is characterized by a harmonized melody in G-Lydian mode in the violas, accompanied by a drone in the ‘cellos for a rustic sound. 

Fun fact about this piece:  I conceived the final Rondo during a Nine Inch Nails set at a rock festival in San Antonio!  And another:  I composed the first half of the opening movement entirely in my head before I began writing it down. 

I’ll be very interested to know what people think of this piece and the combination of these instruments, and I hope listening to it will be a pleasant adventure into a different sound-world.

https://soundcloud.com/j-lee-graham/sets/quartet-in-g-minor-for-2

NOTE:  Since evidently I can only attach 3 files, the score to the Menuetto has been omitted.  

Quartet in G minor for 2 Violas and 2 Violoncelli - 1. Allegro energico.pdf

Quartet in G minor for 2 Violas and 2 Violoncelli - 4. Presto.pdf

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Replies

  • I've listened to the first two movements and find it impossible to comment except to find them thoroughly accomplished. Easy and pleasant to listen to. Music simply to relax to and absorb.

    The craft resolves in the fine details, the scoring too.

    Very well done. As Michael Diemer says (above): polished. 

  • Hi Joseph, I am enjoying listening to your first movement. I like that you have found an ensemble that has not been used, that is a great idea and the sound works quite well.  We had a young composer on this forum last year who played viola and wrote viola and cello duets for herself and her friend who is a cellist and she mentioned a facebook group of like-minded musicians, I think they would enjoy your work very much also.

    Can you comment on your production methods, that has become a point of interest for many of us here.

    Welcome to the forum, thanks for posting.

  • Because you asked, I do have some thoughts on the instrumentation. Perhaps there is a reason there are few compositions for this combination. Personally, I'm not a big fan of small ensembles. But that's just me, I know. No reflection on you. This particular combination, for me, lacks sonic variation. Both in range and types of sound. Barbershop groups have a very wide range. Woodwind quintets have a variety of instruments and sounds. Perhaps that's one of the challenges you anticipated. 

    You tend to have all four instruments playing most of the time. I could have used some thinner textures here and there. You did on occasion. I could have used a bit more. More variety. Though because of your chosen style, there were few musical surprises.

    None of the above means these pieces aren't well written. They indeed are. These are just some little things I noticed as I worked through the music.

  • Thank you very much everybody!  I'm so gratified by all the comments.  

    @michael diemer:  Thanks for the compliments, and I'm glad you enjoyed it!  To answer your question, I didn't have any dance form in mind when I came up with that section, but between the melody, the countermelody, and the repetitive rhythmic accompaniment, I can see how it might feel that way.  The instrumentation does result in a more subdued sound, especially in this electronic rendering, but it's my hope that live players might give it more verve.  Being a violist myself, I rather like the more middle-and-bass sound of the ensemble. 

    @Dane Aubrun:  Thank you too for the compliments, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it. That's why I compose, to give myself and others enjoyment. 

    @Ingo Lee:  Thank you too.  I'm glad you think the ensemble is a good idea that works well.  Writing music for unusual combinations of instruments is one of my specialties - probably the weirdest thing I ever wrote was a Trio for English Horn, Viola, and Double-Bass (for some faculty members at Friends University in Wichita) that worked surprisingly well.  I'll have to keep an eye out for the Facebook group! 

    @Bob Porter:  I really appreciate your frank and thoughtful criticism.  As I said above, I would hope that live musicians might add more colour to the mix, but I have no idea if that would actually be the case.  It is a subdued palette, I'll grant.  As for having all the instruments playing all the time, a colleague of mine recently made the same comment.  I took it to heart in my most recent work, a string sextet I completed a couple of weeks ago, in which I often pare down the ensemble to a quartet or less for textural variety.  The die is cast with this piece, but I will be keeping that in mind from now on.  I've been at this for a lot of years, yet I still continue to learn.

    Thanks again, everybody!     

  • the most important and highest quality work I have ever produced, and the crowning achievement of decades as a composer.

    Hi Joseph,

    This is a very telling comment of yours and gives a fascinating insight into what you personally consider yourself to have achieved with this delightful piece. I know that when we knock ourselves out to achieve such standards it can be frustrating not to have 'tout le monde' jumping up and down with enthusiasm and phoning the local impresario to have the music launched onto the international stage by yesterday at the latest. But of course 'art' was ever thus.

    I found the pieces interesting from the outset, simply because of the choice of instruments - (and I'd certainly like to hear your composition for Cor Anglais, Viola and Contrabass).

    I agree with you that you have managed to achieve a feeling of angst and energy in the outer movements, the hurdy-gurdy effect works very well in the Trio, and it's always a pleasure to hear works written in the Lydian mode.

    Altogether, despite the self-imposed restrictions in colour due to the instruments of choice, you have made up for it by establishing a good driving rhythmical force, maintaining interest in the harmony employed and an overarching inventiveness in your motivic development.

    A good satisfying listen, both from intellectual and emotive perspectives.

    Thank you.

    Stephen

  • Stephen, I can’t thank you enough for listening, and for your thoughtful commentary. 

    Even as hard as I worked on this quartet and its five siblings, and as sure as I am that they are probably the best work I’ve done yet, I have very realistic and somewhat less than sanguine expectations about what impression they are likely to make on the world at large.  I reckon that about the best I can hope for now is to self-publish them, as I have started to do with other things, and hope they end up in the hands of a few musicians who will enjoy and value them, and possibly perform one or two of them for others to enjoy.  Further, by putting them out into the world in this way, it’s possible that I might enhance my own reputation, and after I’m gone, leave something of a legacy behind.  These are my humble aspirations for my work.  At the end of the day, I create for my own enjoyment as much as for the enjoyment of others, and these pieces have made me happy and proud.

    It’s gratifying that the piece piqued your interest because of the instrumentation, and that you thought my handling of my forces in various ways made the piece work despite the instrumentation’s inherent limitations.  I’m aware now that while this grouping might not be everybody’s cup of tea, there just might be some pleasant surprises in store for most others.  And if you think this is subdued palette, you should hear my Trio for Viola, Violoncello, and Contrabass, which I might also post here.  I performed it on viola with a couple of friends a few years ago, and I can say it definitely works, though it’s as dark and thick as purple velvet curtains.  One friend who heard it found the near absence of treble really disconcerting, but it was a hit at the premiere! 

    I’m really glad you enjoyed the piece, and thanks again.  --Joe          

  • Michael,

    I hope you are going through the Patent Office if you are trying to copyright your music. Even then I'm not sure how much good it will do. You have to be able to afford to take someone to court if they infringe on your copyright. Plus how will you know if someone does it. and how will you prove it. 

    Besides, if someone finds your music 50 years from now, how will they perform it if they can't get the rights? What if whoever you will the rights to isn't around? Unless you leave instructions that that's OK. In which case why copyright. I'm just trying to figure out the logic here.

    We live in a litigation-happy society. Let's say I am out on a country road and see a horse in a field. I want to make a drawing of that horse. So I take a picture of the horse and go home and make my drawing. If I later sell that drawing, the owner of the horse is legally entitled to a cut of my sale. I'm not saying that is wrong, I'm just saying everyone seems to be so afraid of someone else stealing stuff that it's kind of sad. Easy for me to say, I know. I have no illusions about how good or bad my music might be. I can write plenty more, if I want.

  • Michael, how do you copyright your work?  There are several ways to make it secure legally, but I was told that just declaring a copyright date on a piece is enough to secure it under most circumstances.  

    Bob brings up interesting points in his post.  One of the ways I am trying to self-publish is by posting my work on IMSLP (https://imslp.org) under a creative commons license, which allows people to use my work (for free of course) while keeping it secure.  I'm not sure I can think of a better way to do it.  IMSLP is known worldwide, and it's wiki format is extremely robust.  If my stuff can't be found on there, it can't be found anywhere.  I'm not looking to make my fortune from my compositions; I'm just happy if they get downloaded and disseminated and played here and there.  The Duo for Viola and Violoncello that I posted there has been downloaded more than 6,000 times, and I've received three notifications so far of performances.  Not bad, I say.    

  • Joseph,

    Think about it. Many websites honor the "you put a copyright date on your work" idea. But we live in an age where if people see it online they think it's free to download and do as they please. We think nothing of posting copyrighted material to youtube were anyone can download it for free. 

    If you put a date on something, how do you prove in court that date is accurate, and not one you added later or earlier? Even if you print it and mail it to yourself (thereby having a USPS time stamp on it), it might not hold up. That can be faked,also. Did you know that the creators of most Mardi  Gras costumes copyright them so that photographers can't take pictures of them to use commercially without paying a fee?

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