About this Recording
8.559180 - CORIGLIANO: Snapshot - Circa 1909 / String Quartet No. 1 / FRIEDMAN: String Quartet No. 2
English 

John Corigliano (b. 1938): Music for String Quartet
Jefferson Friedman (b. 1974): String Quartet No. 2

 

John Corigliano is one of the finest and most widely recognized American composers. Among the dozens of citations, doctorates, and other honors he has received are included all of the most important music awards — several Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize for his Second Symphony, a Grawemeyer, and an Academy Award for his score to François Girard's 1997 film The Red Violin. One of the few living composers to have a string quartet named after him, Corigliano's work has been performed by some of the most visible orchestras, soloists and chamber musicians in the world, and recorded on the Sony, RCA, BMG, Telarc, Erato, Ondine, New World, CRI and Naxos labels.

Corigliano's music most often builds his characteristic expressive melody into large-scale structures of compelling logic and transparency. His reputation as a conservative is inaccurate: attentive listening reveals a maverick imagination, an artist who has taken traditional notions like "symphony" or "concerto" and within them found a language all his own, drawn as much from his American forbears as from the explorations of the post-war European avant garde. "You must understand the importance of the past," says Corigliano, "but if you don't realize the importance of the present and the future, you don't nourish that — and our art form does not — then it's like a tree that grows no new shoots. Without new shoots the tree dies."

The composer was born in 1938 into a distinguished musical family: his father, John Corigliano, Sr., served as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for almost thirty years, encompassing the tenures of both Toscanini and Bernstein. The younger Corigliano first came to prominence in 1964 when, at the age of 26, his Sonata for Violin and Piano was the first and only winner of the chamber-music competition of the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds in Italy. Support from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation followed, as well as important commissions. For the New York Philharmonic he composed his Vocalise, Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra and Fantasia on an Ostinato ; for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, he wrote Poem in October ; for the New York State Council on the Arts he wrote the Oboe Concerto ; for flute phenomenon James Galway he composed the Pied Piper Fantasy. The Boston Symphony Orchestra commissioned and introduced his Promenade Overture, as well as the Second Symphony ; the National Symphony Orchestra commissioned the evening-length A Dylan Thomas Trilogy.

Perhaps the most important symphonist of his era, Corigliano has to date written three symphonies, each a wholly separate landscape unto itself. Symphony No. 1, (1991) commissioned by Meet the Composer for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was composer-in-residence, channeled Corigliano's personal grief over the loss of friends to the AIDS crisis into music of immense power, color, drama, and scope: performed worldwide by over 150 orchestras and twice recorded, this symphony earned him the prestigious Grawemeyer Award. His Second Symphony, a rethinking and expansion of the haunted, surreal, and glitteringly virtuosic String Quartet, was introduced by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2000 and earned him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. The Third Symphony may be his most ambitious and remarkable yet: scored simultaneously for wind orchestra and a multitude of wind ensembles, Corigliano's excessive, crazed, and grandly barbarous Circus Maximus, commissioned by the University of Texas at Austin Wind Ensemble, had its New York première in 2005 at Carnegie Hall.

Corigliano's made his operatic début with The Ghosts of Versailles (1991), a rangy, inventive, and emotional look at the costs of the French Revolution through the eyes of Beaumarchais, author of the famed Figaro trilogy. The Metropolitan Opera's first commission in three decades, The Ghosts succeeded brilliantly with both critics and audiences; both its original engagement (and, later, its 1994 revival) boasted completely sold-out runs, and that season Corigliano was both elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letter and named Musical America 's first-ever "Composer of the Year." The Chicago Lyric Opera performed the work in their 1995 season, Hanover Opera gave the German première in 1999, and at this writing, several new productions are in the works. The Ghosts remains Corigliano's only work expressly for the opera stage; but his other large-scale vocal works show a comparably lavish and powerful sense of vocal theatre. A Dylan Thomas Trilogy revisits and combines three of Corigliano's earlier settings of this poet ( Fern Hill, Poem in October, and Poem on His Birthday ) into a "memory play in the form of an oratorio," scored for boy soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus, and orchestra. Mr. Tambourine Man; Seven Poems of Bob Dylan boldly refashions texts by the iconic songwriter into a compelling monodrama, by turns savage, yearning, and hallucinatory: begun as a song cycle for piano and soprano in 2000, Corigliano rescored the piece for full orchestra and amplified soprano in 2004.

Equally active as a creator of chamber music, Corigliano's catalogue includes (besides the Violin Sonata and the String Quartet ) the virtuoso showpieces Etude Fantasy and Fantasia on an Ostinato for solo piano; Phantasmagoria, a suite of themes from The Ghosts of Versailles, for cello and for piano (as well as for orchestra;) Fancy on a Bach Air for solo cello (recorded on Sony by Yo-Yo Ma); and the unique Chiaroscuro, for two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart. Of late, he's ventured into cabaret, setting Mark Adamo's lyrics Marvelous Invention and Dodecaphonia (or, T hey Call Her Twelve-Tone Rose ) for William Bolcom and Joan Morris.

Corigliano serves on the faculty at the Juilliard School of Music, and holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College, City University of New York, which recently established a composition scholarship in his name. He lives in New York City and in Kent Cliffs, New York.

 

Composer's Notes

Snapshot: Circa 1909

When the Elements Quartet asked me to write a piece inspired by a photograph, I immediately thought of one I have had since I was a child. It was taken in Greenwich Village in my grandparents' Sullivan Street apartment, which I have only seen in photos. The photographer came to do a group shot of my grandparents, whom I never met, and their six children. After taking that picture, the photographer was coaxed into doing a shot of my father and his brother Peter performing on violin and guitar. The picture has never ceased to move me. My father looked about eight years old, wearing knickers and earnestly bowing his violin, while my uncle, then a teenager, held a guitar in an aristocratic position and stared at the camera.

In the short quartet inspired by the photo, the second violin plays a nostalgic melody, while the other strings pluck their instruments in a guitar-like manner. This solo is obviously the boy violinist singing through his instrument. After the melody is completed, however, the first violin enters, muted, in the very highest register. In my mind, he was playing the dream that my eight-year-old father must have had - of performing roulades and high, virtuosic, musing passages that were still impossible for him to master.

This young violinist grew into a great soloist - my father, John Corigliano, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for over a quarter century. He, as an adult, performed the concerti and solos that as a child he could only imagine.

The two violins, boy and dream, join together at the end as the guitar sounds play on.

String Quartet

In writing my string quartet I was always aware that I was dealing with a unique instrument, composed of four instrumentalists. Unlike the orchestra, unified by a maestro's vision and beat, or most other chamber combinations, composed of highly differentiated soloists, the string quartet must be able to produce a conductorless unity of sound and ensemble that can only be accomplished by years of playing together.

It is possible to ask a quartet to play and "breathe" as one instrument, even while employing considerable rhythmic freedom (rubato). Alternatively, the players can achieve an independence from one another that is otherwise only possible when a group is precisely conducted.

These special qualities of quartet playing became the basis of my first essay into this extraordinary medium. Added to this was the fact that I was writing for one of the greatest of all quartets, the Cleveland Quartet, and that they were presenting this work during their farewell concert tour before disbanding.

The idea of an ensemble such as this playing for the last time surely colored the emotional palate of my quartet with a feeling of farewell, and while the work is basically abstract in content, certain areas, like the final Postlude, cannot help but echo these sentiments.

Architecturally, the 35-minute work is in five movements that bear a superficial resemblance to the arch-form principles of Bartók's Fourth Quartet (movements I and V are related and movements II and IV are related, with III as a central "night music"), but in fact all five movements of the quartet are also united by similar motives and thematic content.

Specifically, the quartet is based upon a motto composed of even repetitions of a single tone, and a sequence of disjunct minor thirds. There are also four pitch centers recurring throughout the work: C, C sharp, G and G sharp.

Prelude

This short movement utilizes two kinds of muted playing. It opens and closes using a "practice mute" (which reduces the sound to a whisper) while the central section employs a standard "sordino."

Threads of sound gently appear from and disappear into silence. They have an unfocused and ambient feel because each of the players is playing very slightly out of synchronization with the others.

Gradually the texture becomes clearer, and the basic elements of the quartet are introduced: two of the pitch centers (G and C sharp), the disjunct minor thirds (here ascending), and a serene chordal fragment based upon the repeated single-tone motive. The movement ends as the ascending thirds disappear into silence.

Scherzo

Slashing evenly-repeated chords begin the movement and are counterpoised against suddenly-faster irreverent "pop"-ish shades. Variants of the repeated-note motive lead to a virtuoso passage in which all four players articulate in rapid 16th-notes both the repeated single-tone motive and the disjunct minor thirds. A recapitulation of the slashing chords leads to a gentle trio: a chaconne based upon the chordal fragments in the prelude is played by a duo, while the other two players provide lyrical counterpoint. A return to the opening material and an even larger and wilder recapitulation of earlier material brings the movement to a frenetic end.

Nocturne

Some years ago during a vacation in Morocco, I stayed at the Palais Jamais in Fez. My room overlooked the old city and during the night (about 4 a.m.) I was awakened by the calls of the muezzins from the many mosques in the city. First one, then another, and finally dozens of independent calls created a glorious counterpoint, and at one moment all of the calls held on to a single note (pure accident) and the result was a major chord. The calls died away, a cock crowed and a dog barked to announce the sun. This Nocturne recalls that memory — the serenity of the Moroccan night, the calls (here composed of motivic fragments of repeated notes and minor thirds) and the descent to silence and the dawn.

Fugue

I have always been fascinated by counterpoint. In this process, a theme set against a steady beat is given a highly individual rhythmic profile with long notes, short notes and syncopations, so that when it is played against other material its line will stand out clearly. An opposing theme, also set against this same steady beat, will have a different rhythmic profile; it will rest when the first theme plays and vice versa. This enables us to hear both themes independently, note against note. I always wondered if voices could be made independent by exactly the opposite method: the themes would all be composed of even beats, with absolutely no rhythmic profile. Instead of both themes set against a common beat (which would result in chords) each voice would travel at a different speed (or tempo). The misalignment that occurs when two rhythmically identical themes travel at two different speeds (say, 60 versus 72 beats per minute) would separate them as surely as syncopation does within a common beat. The problem comes in trying to execute such a technique. One cannot simply instruct the players to play at these different tempi, for it is impossible to sustain them precisely for any length of time. Therefore, these independent lines must be accurately notated in a common rhythm, even though they are not heard that way. While this is difficult to play, it is not hard to hear; listen for example to the opening viola subject answered by a slightly slower second violin while the viola continues at its own tempo.

The movement is marked "severe", and there is a starkness to this music brought about not only by the dissonant material (the subject is composed of both the repeated tone and the disjunct minor thirds, this time descending), but also by the total independence of the voices. They seem to travel alone, unrelated to each other, yet identical to each other. There are two sections in the Fugue where the four instruments unite in a common rhythm. This is usually accomplished by one or another of the sections "catching up" with the others. Other elements include asynchronous "chases" in the upper three strings and a serene (and synchronous) slow section. Formally the Fugue is traditional, with an exposition, central section and strettoed recapitulation.

Postlude

The ending of the Fugue is joined to the Postlude. In this movement, the lower three strings are spatially offset by the first violin which enters, muted, on the highest C sharp. The distance between the solo violin and the rest of the quartet remains vast in this first section, which also introduces a cadence derived from the Prelude and the trio of the Scherzo. An ornamental recitative-like section in the three lower strings follows, and in time the first violin joins them in a unity of playing. This highly free section, in which all four players play in unison with interspersed chords, demands that the quartet play exactly together, in spite of the music's constantly changing tempo. An impassioned climax leads to a long descending passage, which gradually changes into the nonsynchronous ambient-sounding threads of the first movement, and with the addition of practice mutes and an exact retrograde of the opening music, the quartet fades into silence.

This quartet was commisioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.

A Black November Turkey

A Black November Turkey gets its strange title from Richard Wilbur's equally strange poem. Originally an a cappella choral work, the text is a savage barnyard allegory set against an inane patter of clucking chickens (marked "with bitter sarcasm" in the score), and portrays a sad and endless futility, a celebrated and unnoticed death. The string quartet version was arranged especially for the Corigliano Quartet and was premiered at the 2003 American Vanguard Festival at Dickinson College.

John Corigliano

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Jefferson Friedman : String Quartet No. 2

American composer Jefferson Friedman received his M.M. degree in music composition in May 2001 from the Juilliard School, where he studied with John Corigliano, and his B.A. from Columbia University, where his teachers included David Rakowski and Jonathan Kramer. His music has been performed throughout the United States and abroad, most notably at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center 's Alice Tully Hall and Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and the American Academy in Rome. His catalogue includes solo and chamber works, a chamber opera, two orchestral works, and three string quartets. Commissions include the National Symphony Orchestra, the contemporary music ensemble Yesaroun' Duo, Chiara String Quartet, and the Utah Arts Festival. He has attended the Aspen Music Festival three times, studying with George Tsontakis twice, and with John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse, and has been composer-in-residence at the Seaside Institute, Florida. In 2000, Jefferson Friedman received the ASCAP Leo Kaplan Award and the BMI Student Composer Award for String Quartet No. 2. His other awards include the 2001 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award, 2001 Palmer Dixson Prize, and a 2001 Juilliard Orchestra Competition win. He is the recipient of the 2004 Rome Prize Fellowship in Musical Composition from the American Academy in Rome.

 

Composer's Note

The medium of the string quartet is the most personal and intimate of all to me, and so String Quartet No. 2, like all of my quartets, is a diary entry. Much of the music I write is programmatic in one way or another, but when I sit down to write a quartet, I try to write something that is as close to who I am as a person and a composer. There are certainly moments in this piece that represent specific events to me, but they only matter in the sense that the feelings that were sparked by them conjured up the music that references them. I wrote String Quartet No. 2 while I was studying with John Corigliano. In many ways, this piece, and all that has followed from it, would not have been possible without him, and so it is a great honor and pleasure to share this recording with him and his namesake.

Jefferson Friedman

 


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