string quartet II

"the loss and the silence" (2004)

(approximate duration: 37 minutes) 

My second string quartet was commissioned by the Juilliard String Quartet and The Juilliard School with the generous support of the Trust of Francis Goelet. The piece is, in many ways, a synthesis of my work to date. It incorporates the four main threads that run, to a greater or lesser degree, through all my music: the structural use of rhythmic cycles; the unfolding of long melismae (spun mainly from Mozarabic chant); the concept of re-interpretation, and an interest in Medieval thought and traditions. 

The work opens with a sonata-type form. The 'frame' of the first movement, the starting point for re-interpretation, is late classical style. We hear three clearly punctuated sections, with a chordal sostenuto preceding each one of them. We can identify two ideas, the first one is made of undulating lines which create a continuous surface, with changing reflexions, like a prism. A more incisive second subject introduces a rhythmic cycle that will become dominant in the fourth movement. 

“The Loss and the Silence" -the phrase is Tolkien's- was originally the title of the second movement. In Tolkien's story, an immortal, ageless maiden chooses mortality in order to be with the mortal man she loves. After many years of dwelling together in bliss, the man, at last, feels that his life draws to an end. She is overborne by grief and a keen sense of the mortality that she has taken upon her. The story's substance relates to the early Christian symbols of Fall and Mortality. Mortality, understood as "the gift of the One to Men," and Fall, as the result of a rebellion against this gift, leading to a desire for power and the corrupted use of man's inner talents with the "object of bull-dozing the real world, of coercing other wills." 

The third movement, is a deconstructed dance form. It is marked cadenero from the Spanish for 'chain'. ‘Cadenero’ is a porteño slang that refers to a horse that is fastened to a vehicle with chains for the purpose of pulling it when the road is difficult. The word is also used to describe a man who offers his arm for support or guidance to a lady, and so, by extension, it means 'leader.' In Tango parlance, the expression "fueye cadenero" refers to the bandoneon that pulls along and leads an orchestra (the word ‘fueye’ stands for a pleated windbag.)

The fourth movement begins with a reference to the sound world of the previous movement as an introduction to a perpetual motion process built around a rhythmic cycle. Each instrument unfolds a different rotation of this cycle creating a counterpoint of rhythms moving against a steady pulse and generating metric displacements of melodic materials heard during the first movement. The slow central section refers back to the surface of the second movement, but the material has been transformed and it now carries greater harmonic density. The movement concludes with a coda that leads to a restatement of the sostenuto music that opens the work. 

In a brief fifth movement, an epilogue to the piece, we hear echoes of the second movement. It is the aftermath of the story. The man is dead and the maiden's gone forth, the light in her eyes quenched, "cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star." Tolkien was more concerned with the griefs and burdens of deathlessness in time and change, than with death itself.

- Ezequiel Viñao

Audio excerpts performed by The Juilliard String Quartet.

© 2006 TLØN EDITIONS Music Publishers. All rights reserved.

ezequiel viñao

(audio samples)