About this Recording
8.559260 - DRUCKMAN: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3
English  German 

Jacob Druckman (1928-1996)
String Quartets Nos. 2 and 3 • Reflections on the Nature of Water • Dark Wind

 

Jacob Druckman was born in Philadelphia on 26 June 1928, the son of a manufacturer with a strong amateur musical talent. He began playing the piano at the age of three, and at the age of ten came to the notice of Louis Gesensway, a leading musical figure in Philadelphia in his day and member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who taught him the violin and composition while he was in his early teens. His early works failed to make an impact and at the age of 21 he decided to abandon music altogether, but was saved from this course by Aaron Copland who, having seen his work, invited him to Tanglewood as a composition student. He studied at the Juilliard School in New York with Bernard Wagenaar, Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin, and at the Ecole Normale de Musique with Tony Aubin. Druckman produced a substantial list of works, including orchestral, chamber, vocal and electronic music. Organisations that commissioned his music included Radio France, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Juilliard Quartet and IRCAM. Druckman was Professor of Composition at Yale University, and also taught at Juilliard, Bard College, Tanglewood and Aspen. He served for four years as composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic and as Artistic Director of the Horizons Festival.

Druckman's early mature pieces from the 1950s include a Violin Concerto (1956) and two ballets. His first major success was with Four Madrigals (1958), for a cappella chorus, in which he was drawn to texts by the English metaphysical poets including Donne's 'Death, be not proud'. This was soon followed by Antiphonies I, II and III (1963), again for chorus, on texts by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Druckman's music uses renaissance polyphony, but in a contemporary and experimental context. He was already interested in new spatial possibilities in vocal writing and the idea of "cross-fading" so that sounds float and flash, antiphonally, across the musical spectrum. By the mid-1980s he had begun his involvement with electronic music, and a series of works entitled Animus use the performer and instrument theatrically as well as musically, in conjunction or competition with a pre-recorded tape. Despite the wildness of some of these pieces, he continued to reach backwards to earlier musical forms, and began to favour direct musical quotation.

Druckman was well into his forties before he felt ready to face the ultimate challenge of the full symphony orchestra, but his first truly large-scale work Windows (1972) immediately won him the Pulitzer Prize. The title aptly summarises one of the major facets of that piece and of the series of highly successful and impressive orchestral works which followed it, namely the perception of image and the contrast between light and dark, time and space. Other titles take up these themes: Chiaroscuro (1977), Aureole (1979), Prism (1980) and Mirage (1976), all of them huge landscapes in which Druckman filters and sifts sounds and images in an almost constellar fashion. Many of these works, too, contain quotations from earlier music, especially from composers of the Italian baroque like Cavalli, and from Cherubini (Druckman was fascinated by the Medea story and it is likely that had he lived longer he would have completed his Medea opera). As the 1980s progressed, he began to adopt a more linear and contrapuntal idiom of composition which, while not exactly bringing his music through the full circle, marked an assimilation of those elements of earlier musical form (which he had hitherto been inclined to quote directly) into his own style of writing. This need for compactness partly derived from a number of commissions for short occasional pieces like Summer Lightning (1991) and Seraphic Games (1992). One of his last works, Counterpoise (1994), a song-cycle written for Dawn Upshaw and the Philadelphia Orchestra, is almost post-romantic in its lyrical outpouring of texts by Emily Dickinson and Guillaume Apollinaire.

Druckman's chamber music spans almost his entire career, beginning with one of his earliest pieces, the String Quartet No. 1 of 1948. The Second Quartet dates from 1966, and was commissioned for the Juilliard String Quartet by Lado, a philanthropic musical organization. It belongs to the same period as the early Animus pieces, when Druckman's experimentalism was at its height. The work is cast in one continuous movement, and is formally quite loosely constructed, although there are elements of variation form in the treatment of the opening intervallic and metrical elements. Much greater is the emphasis on contrasts in the relationship between pitch and timbre, mood and dynamic, achieved through the use of devices such as ricochet legno (allowing the back of the bow to bounce off the strings whilst altering the pitch on the fingerboard), sordini (mutes) ponticello, and exaggerated ponticello, where the bow presses against the mute almost totally obscuring the pitch. At times the player is required to choke the note on the string by dragging the bow too slowly to produce identifiable pitch. Although the thematic material receives quite liberal treatment, there is much dialogue and imitation between the voices, evident from the very opening G on the first violin, taken up in echo by the other instruments. Sometimes the parts follow one another, at other times they go in the opposite direction and end up in open conflict. If structure and form are elastic, metrical patterns are very precise and the aleatoric element is surprisingly small, and usually only affords the players limited freedom within prescribed intervals or parameters. As the work progresses, the mood becomes more intense as ideas briefly encountered earlier return almost falling over one another to be heard. The piece ends calmly, as it began, on a single note.

The Third Quartet (1981) was a commission from the Fromm Music Foundation for the Concord Quartet. It is, altogether, a much more classical affair in structural terms. As the composer comments in the score; "There are two insistent, inexorable subjects running through the entire work. The first, presented simply at the opening, moves through violent and complex transformations in the variations and recedes to a shadowy structural skeleton in the two scherzi. The second, that of the marcia-ritornelli, remains almost untouched, obstinately retaining its character". The work opens on a single note (D) and gradually unfolds in a sort of wedge pattern, the intervals steadily widening, culminating in a short tremolo interlude. Dramatic gesture soon appears in the form of demisemiquaver runs, and ostinati figurations which imitate and affirm intervallic elements. Soon the viola takes up a repeated note sequence (D again) and so the variation process proper starts. The variations come in continuous groups of three, the first being followed by two marcia-ritornelli (themselves divided by a scherzo) and which introduce a strongly rhythmical dimension to the music, giving it further dramatic impetus and providing a springboard for new variations. In the first scherzo, the repeated note idea returns, but with variation of pitch, timbre and dynamic, and intervals being linked and closed by glissandi and portamenti. Sudden lush chords herald the return of the marcia which closes the first movement. The second movement (Variations 4, 5 and 6) sees dramatic tension increasing with earlier elements receiving more concentrated and simultaneous development. In the sixth variation there is a fragment of what may be a romantic quotation. The third return of the marcia at the beginning of the third movement is also the most clearly defined rhythmically, and from then on the tempi gradually become opaque and distorted, especially in the succeeding seventh variation. There is also a marked decline in tension as the mood quietens in the final two variations and the music returns to its little bubble of a sustained D. The quartet ends with the bursting of this bubble in a shower of semiquavers.

Reflections on the Nature of Water (1986) was commissioned by the marimba player William Moersch and first heard at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in November of that year. It is, in essence, a series of études and one is immediately struck by the oriental, even Japanese, mood so often associated with the instrument. The music perfectly captures the marimba's reflective character, and is overlaid with a shimmering tonal texture. Each of the six movements reflects a different physical property of water, and Druckman uses his favoured intervals, the second and augmented fourth or tritone, studiously avoiding consonant intervals such as thirds and fifths. Rapid repeated note patterns and figurations appear, especially in the second and last movements. The meditative third movement (marked Tranquil) could almost be a Japanese woodprint. The fourth (marked Gently swelling) is the most complex rhythmically, with irregular, almost calypso-like dance patterns between the two hands. The ferocious last movement is a sort of joust. The composer writes: "Reflections on the Nature of Water is a small payment towards a very large debt. There were primarily two composers, Debussy and Stravinsky, whose music affected me so profoundly during my tender formative years that I had no choice but to become a composer. It is to Debussy that I doff my hat with these reflections of his magical preludes."

Druckman's music had been moving into a more established, romantic pattern in his final decade and Reflections is a clear instance of this trend. Dark Wind for violin and cello (1994) was one of his last works, and is both remarkably concentrated and concise throughout its six minute span. Elements from the earlier quartets may be readily discerned, (concern with folding and unfolding intervallic elements, timbre, repeated note patterns etc.), but the leanness of texture and terseness of utterance suggest a new sense of urgency. The piece is a brief essay (again in quasi-variation form) on the material heard at the beginning, and is a fitting summation of all that is finest and most distinctive in Druckman's mature style.

Jacob Druckman died in May 1996. Shortly before he died, he was able to be present at some of the recording sessions for this disc, and made known his delight and enthusiasm with the results.

Bret Johnson

 


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