What's New: Four Quartets

Oct 27, 2016

Norman Rockwell's Sharp Harmony
Credit Ebay

There’s an old joke about the “definition” of a string quartet: a good violinist, a bad violinist, someone who used to play violin, and someone who hates violins! It’s a funny stereotype – but the string quartet has sparked the imagination of composers since Alessandro Scarlatti and was perfected by Joseph Haydn.


We’ll feature four modern masterpieces for string quartet by Walter Mays, John Adams, Andrzej Panufnik, and John Corigliano on this episode of What’s New!

"String quartet writing is one of the most difficult challenges a composer can take on. Unless one is an accomplished string player and writes in that medium all the time—and I don’t know many these days who do—the demands of handling this extremely volatile and transparent instrumental medium can easily be humbling, if not downright humiliating. What I appreciate about my friends in the St. Lawrence is their willingness to let me literally ‘improvise’ on them as if they were a piano or a drum and I a crazy man beating away with only the roughest outlines of what I want. They will go the distance with me, allow me to try and fail, and they will indulge my seizures of doubt, frustration and indecision, all the while providing intuitions and frequently brilliant suggestions of their own. It is no surprise then for me to reveal that both the First Quartet and Absolute Jest went through radical revision stages both before and after each piece’s premiere. Quartet writing for me seems to be a matter of very long-term ‘work in progress.’" - John Adams

What’s New is a production of WBAA Classical, a listener supported broadcast service of Purdue University.