About this Recording
8.559752 - HIGDON, J.: Early Chamber Works - Sky Quartet / Amazing Grace / Viola Sonata (Serafin String Quartet, Abramovic, Stomberg)

Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962)
Early Chamber Works


The name Jennifer Higdon has been on musicians’ minds Jennifer Higdon for decades, as an up-and-coming composer who would make her mark on the American musical landscape. It is fair to say that Jennifer has moved beyond the “up and coming” stage and is now one of the most influential composers in America, if not the world. The repertoire on this disc highlights some of Jennifer’s early works, with each piece showing a different direction that she later explores. From the rhythmic intensity in Dark Wood, to the epic saga in the String Trio, to the lush harmonies in Sky Quartet, each piece is masterful, compelling and uniquely Higdon. The works on this recording introduce listeners to five unrecorded chamber works, and it stands as a historical document of a composer’s desired interpretation. It has been an honor to work with a composer of such immense talent and warm personality, and we wish her continued success in the years to come.

Composer’s Note

This arrangement of Amazing Grace began as part of a choral cycle, called Southern Grace, which I composed in 1998. Many years later, the Ying String Quartet asked me to arrange it for their group. It has been a pleasure to watch the joy that this piece brings to audiences.

When I began composing Sky Quartet, I took as my inspiration the beauty and immensity of the sky in the Western part of the United States. This viewpoint came about because the commissioning quartet was in residence in Colorado. And so the work paints musical portraits of that sky in various stages: the start of a day, the rapture of its “blueness”, a storm-wrenched fury, and its vast immensity. This work was commissioned by Frances Hettinger for the Da Vinci Quartet. Originally composed in 1997, it was revised in 2000.

The Sonata for Viola and Piano was composed in 1990, just as I was starting graduate school. It explores the wonderful colors of the viola, and also allows for a substantial dialogue with the piano. As I was writing this work, I was mindful of other viola sonatas (Hindemith, Clarke) and was undoubtedly influenced by some of the flute music that I have played (the Prokofiev Sonata and the Copland Duo).

Dark Wood is a work that features the bassoon…a soulful instrument that does not have a tremendous amount of chamber literature. I wanted to create a piece that features the bassoon prominently, but also respects it within the framework of a true chamber dialogue (along with its partners, the violin, cello, and piano). Since much of the literature for this beautiful instrument is slow moving, I made the conscious decision also to explore its virtuosic abilities. While there is slow music within the piece, there is also an emphasis on real “bite” within the language, as well as variety in the rhythm and tempi. The title refers to the beauty of the wood of which all bassoons are made. Dark Wood was commissioned in 2001 by St Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, with funds provided by The Jerome Foundation.

The String Trio dates back to 1988 and reveals a young composer in the process of finding her own voice. I had been asked by several of my Curtis classmates to write a work for this combination, because their quartet was going to be missing a player in an upcoming concert. I found it a challenge, as having recently completed a string quartet, I feared the lack of that extra violin would remove some of the “richness” of the sound. But this instrumentation adjustment made me think differently about musical lines and how they unfold. The language is restless and searching, and even the arrival points do not feel quite settled. A good place to be if you are a developing young composer.


I am honored to have had the Serafin String Quartet record these works. As a composer, working with excellent musicians is truly the most rewarding part of my job. And to have the chance to revisit these older works, and examine them through the prism of time passed, in the context of how I write now, has been surprising and enjoyable. I am grateful for the hard work and innate musical gift that these musicians have shared in putting this disc together. In short, I am inspired by their enthusiasm and conviction. And I know they agree with me in the sentiment that we are all thankful that you will allow us to share this with you.

Jennifer Higdon

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