String Quartet #3
By Patrick Higgins
SQ3 employs a unique notational structure, seamlessly shifting between traditional staff notation, graphic elements, spatial notation, and textual instruction, it is at once exacting and interpretive. The work itself engages with the practices and rituals of mourning and redemption. Though not a work of program music, its four movements traverse a deeply dramatic and narrative arc, developing variation materials with almost ritualistic intensity. The first movement “Aletheia” builds itself around a counterpoint of vibrations, beginning with a dense cloud of trills, cross-fading in level, before dissolving and digging into the substance of the trill itself—an absolute difference, two root-less pitches, with no home or point of origin. Elements of density and noise enter in as the material qualities of the instruments themselves take priority over melody and pitch. An extended cadenza for first violin is set against a simple cadence in the supporting voices, an almost uncoiled tension-spring snapped atop a regular gait, a squeeze-box rhythm. "Encomium" emerges from silence into a slow unison of pitches, which are gradually pulled apart into microtonal differentiation, a bizarre and surprising eruption of rhythm arising from the clash of closely dislocated tones. This rhythmic impulse is carried across the rest of the movement, recapitulating and disfiguring materials from the first movement. The work closes with an abstract shape-based “Passagio” before the elegiac fourth movement. “Burial” is a haunting fugue, slowly intertwining a lament between the voices of the quartet before its sudden interruption and dislocation by a furious and virtuosic double cadenza for viola and cello closes the piece. The work is a meditation on death and ritual, but in the joy and passion of its execution, it is also an invitation to life, and to the primal urge to create anew. SQ3 was written for and premiered by the Mivos Quartet.