About this Recording
8.559661 - POST, D.L.: String Quartets Nos. 2-4 / Fantasia on a Virtual Choral (Hawthorne String Quartet)

David L. Post (b. 1949)
String Quartets Nos. 2–4


The string quartet has always seemed to me to be the pinnacle of musical expression. The great composers who devoted themselves to the genre—Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and later Bartók and Shostakovich—managed to create works that rank at the very top of their respective outputs. It is a medium that requires the composer to focus intensely, and to distil and sharpen his or her musical ideas to a fine precision, with no padding and no place to hide. Consequently, it is direct and intimate writing. Each note, each measure must belong, must spring from what came before it and lead to what comes next, to take its place as an inseparable part of a larger organic whole. The piece itself must lift off the ground to deliver a complete and satisfying emotional experience to the listener—one that resonates in the mind and spirit after the last note has faded away.

The Second String Quartet was written in 2001 on commission from the Martinů Quartet, a distinguished ensemble based in Prague, and was first performed by them at that city’s Festival of Contemporary Music in March 2002. The piece was then taken up by the Hawthorne String Quartet which gave the American première in the Berkshires later that year and then took it back to Prague, performing it in Prague Castle in a highly successful benefit concert for the Terezín Memorial after the disastrous floods earlier that year necessitated raising funds for its restoration. They have performed it several times since.

The piece is in four movements, Moderato, Scherzo, Molto lento and Allegro agitato, and follows a fairly traditional structure. The entire quartet is based on the motive stated at the beginning by the viola, consisting of four pairs of half-step intervals. The music evolves organically, and although the primary impulse is lyrical throughout, contrapuntal techniques are used to develop and highlight aspects of motivic development and transformation.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines virtual as “existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form or name,” and the term has gained a wide currency in the cyberspace age. “Essence” and “effect” are the operative words here for the Fantasia on a Virtual Choral is written “backwards”—in that the development precedes the exposition of the ideas. Well before any point of arrival is reached, the listener is confronted with swirling bits and pieces, motives and intervals that are part of the choral but which collide and ricochet off each other, at times seeming to land and form a well-behaved cadence, but remain unsettled until the very end, when the fragments coalesce and the choral finally emerges. But its appearance is cut short abruptly, and before it can establish itself completely it begins to disintegrate and soon vanishes into silence.

The inspiration for this piece came from the wonderful, haunting Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale Saint Wenceslas’ of Josef Suk, for string quartet (or small string orchestra.) It became a signature piece and a well-loved symbol of unity and comfort for the Czech people during wartime. I became familiar with it on my first visit to Prague, where I found a copy of the pocket score in a used music shop and became entranced by the power and emotion contained in this beautiful, brief work.

Fantasia on a Virtual Choral was commissioned by the Terezín Music Foundation.

In 2004, Mark Ludwig, violist with the Hawthorne String Quartet, approached me with an intriguing proposal. In celebration of its 300th birthday, the City of Brookline, Massachusetts would be sponsoring commissions of local artists for projects that would celebrate the vibrant creativity of the area. In this particular case, the Brookline Library Music Association was interested in underwriting a new chamber work. Would I be interested in composing a piece based on photographs of the celebrated local photographer Abelardo Morell?

I found the prospect of using visual images in the Fourth String Quartet (Three Photographs of Abelardo Morell) as a springboard for a musical composition exciting. To sweeten the pot, Abe’s images were immediately compelling and congenial. His work is dynamic and forceful, with unusual, startling juxtapositions, and often show familiar objects in novel and unfamiliar ways, so that the viewer isn’t able to apprehend them immediately. The images reveal themselves over time, much in the same way as music unfolds over time. I found the process of being drawn into his re-imagined world to be very conducive to producing musical ideas.

We selected three photographs and I wrote a brief movement for each, pieces that could stand alone, but also be heard together as a coherent whole. My intent was not to “translate” the visual image into sound—an impossible task at best—but rather to capture a state of feeling that it evoked, as well as write a piece that could be heard without any specific reference to the photographs. The result is the three brief movements of the Fourth Quartet. Obviously these are personal responses and someone else will likely have a completely different reaction to them.

I began the Third String Quartet in 2003, at the beginning of the Iraqi war. Originally I had intended to write a traditional four-movement work, but as is often the case, my compositions insist on taking off in directions I do not plan for them and the piece started to tell me it was going to be a one-movement work. Once that became clear, and I gave up trying to make it something it wasn’t, the writing went quickly and the quartet was finished in the Berkshires later that summer.

Though written in one continuous movement, there are four connected sections: Vivo e ritmico, Adagio languido, Burlesque and Tenebroso. Each section steps off from the one before, with the last folding back into thematic material from the first, completing a cycle of sorts. Despite moments of boisterous merriment and manic energy, at its heart, the quartet is dark and ruminative, and fades at the end to black nothingness.

David L. Post

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