About this Recording
8.570353 - RANJBARAN, B.: Awakening / Élégies / Moto Perpetuo / 6 Caprices / String Quartet No. 1 (Sejong)

Behzad Ranjbaran (b. 1955)
Music for Strings


Awakening was composed as a reflection on war and peace. It was commissioned by the Sejong Soloists and the Great Mountain Music Festival in South Korea. Sejong first performed an excerpt of the piece on 3rd August 2005 in a festival for peace at the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea. The première of the complete work was at the Great Mountain Music Festival in South Korea two days later.

Preserving the sanctity of peace is a common desire of all humanity. It is hard to understand why humans at times are drawn to war, when prosperity and happiness can be gained by peace. Bravery and courage are often associated with war heroes; however, Awakening pays tribute to another type of bravery as well: those who resist the temptation of using violence and war to solve conflicts. Awakening commemorates the triumph of peace over war and violence. It is so fitting to celebrate peace with music, an inclusive artform that transcends time, cultures and generations.

Awakening is one continuous movement with three interconnected sections: Andante con fuoco, Largo spirituale and Andante con fuoco. The melodic and harmonic basis of Awakening is a short motif, heard at the outset of the piece that is continuously varied and transformed as the work progresses. The agitated and dissonant first section reflects on the agony and horror of war. The meditative and contemplative middle section, largo spirituale, explores an inner struggle within individuals. The final section shares many characteristics with the first section but with a sense of optimism that brings the music to an energetic finale.

The main 5-note motif of Awakening is used to craft an ‘Arc de Triomphe’ in the music, visually creating a symbolic gesture to represent the triumph of peace over conflict; measures 106 and 107 are a mirror image of measures 104 and 105 (see above).

Moto Perpetuo for solo violin and strings is a transcription of an earlier piece for violin and piano, composed in 1998. The title literally means “constant motion” and it is composed in the tradition of short works with enormous energy at dazzling speed. Moto Perpetuo is propelled forward with a four-note motif that is heard immediately after the opening passage. This motif is the primary harmonic and melodic basis of the piece.

The second motif is more lyrical with a somewhat contrasting character. However, the constant motion is kept alive throughout, often in close imitation between the solo and the string orchestra. There are moments of joy, humor, and lyricism, ultimately ending with fearless energy. It is a virtuosic showpiece that challenges the soloist and the ensemble similarly.

Elegy for Strings was composed in 1985. It presents a sorrowful melody in a variety of contexts. The main theme is introduced by the violas and remains essentially intact throughout the piece, yet the listener’s perception progresses through a variety of moods and textures, akin to an emotional journey. The form is organic and the secondary musical materials are mostly derived from the main theme. The piece gradually reaches a peak towards the very end. The final bars restate the beginning of the piece, almost in reverse. In many respects, Elegy for Strings is reflective of life’s cycle; it ends where it began.

Elegy for solo cello and strings is a transcription of the second movement of my Cello Concerto (1998). Elegy, as an independent piece, was first performed in 1998 by Paul Tobias and the Virginia Symphony, with JoAnn Falletta conducting. This performance was in memory of Harry Offenhartz, who was the force behind the commission. The lyrical nature of Elegy is influenced by the melodic figures of Persian vocal music. The solo cello outlines the vocal character of the piece in long melodic lines, which is first presented in the extended orchestral introduction. The principal theme is heard three times: once by the orchestra at the beginning and the other two by the soloist. The final statement is played at the highest range of the cello, in a pure and heavenly tone complemented by a sparse and soft orchestral accompaniment.

What is better than one violin? Two violins! In 1986, I began composing a series of short character pieces for two violins to explore a variety of violin techniques and textures. For my purposes, the free form of a caprice seemed suitable. In these virtuosic pieces both violins are treated equally and each caprice can be performed independently or in any order.

The first of the Six Caprices begins with a three-note motif that can be found throughout the set. It is the longest caprice, with a variety of characters and textures; from quick imitative passages to lyrical lines to crashing chords implying a larger ensemble. The Second Caprice explores the contrast between staccato and legato lines with a whimsical ending. Number three is about playing together and apart. After an intense and expansive peak, it ends peacefully. Numbers four and five feature a variety of moods and textures, most notably passive and agitated. The Sixth Caprice is a wildly virtuosic dance, racing with enormous energy to the end. It covers all corners of the violin and at times implies even more than two violins.

I have always been fascinated by how string quartets can express a wide range of ideas and emotions. In my String Quartet, my intent was to explore the conflicted and driven nature of life in the first movement, dreams and the subconscious in the second, and rituals and ceremonies (presented in a complex dance) in the final movement.

My quartet begins with a five-note motif, played in unison that permeates melodically and harmonically throughout the movement. The energetic and hard-driven character of the second musical idea propels the music forward with fast moving notes and great urgency. It often alternates with a more lyrical rendition of the five-note motif, yielding contrasting sections. After a brief coda, the five-note motif concludes the movement much the same way it had begun, but with greater intensity. The second movement explores the world of fantasy. To some extent the beginning and the ending of the movement function as the opening and closing doors that separate reality from dreams and the subconscious. It is one continuous movement in an arch form that gradually accelerates to an expansive emotional climax and returns steadily to the surface led by an ethereal solo cello. The transcendent ending recalls the beginning. The third movement begins boldly with the five-note motif transformed into a dance character in a compound metre. The asymmetrical metre of Persian folk-music influences much of the rhythmic character of the movement. The return of many materials from earlier movements interwoven into the fabric of this movement reinforces the cyclical and organic character of the quartet. A mysterious passage in particular, reminiscent of the second movement, leads to a brief ballad—this is a favourite moment of mine. A blazingly virtuosic viola leads the quartet to an uplifting conclusion. My String Quartet was completed in 1988.

Behzad Ranjbaran

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