Completed in Rochester, New York on June 7, 1982, my first quartet was composed for the young Casella Quartet, then in residence at the Eastman School of Music with the Cleveland Quartet. As it was conceived and largely composed in 1981, the centenary of Bartok's birth, I elected to make the quartet a conscious homage to that greatest of twentieth century quartet composers. The assassination of Anwar el-Sadat on October 6 of that year effected a partial modification of the original plan through my decision to base most of the important pitch material of the work on the initials of Sadat's name.
Cast as a five-movement score without breaks but with the addition of a brief epilogue the quartet is structured in arch form. The first, third, and fifth movements are sets of variations (with three variations in each movement, each variation being further subdivided into two sections -- the first stressing repeated notes, the second featuring spasmodic homorhythms); the second and fourth are freer and intentionally rely on various Bartokian gestures (glissandi, etc.). In general, the work is somewhat more "mathematical" than most I have composed, and in the odd numbered movements, ratios of 2:1, 1:1, and 1:2 govern the structure of the variations. The first and fifth movements, when played at the indicated tempo, last exactly two and a half minutes, while the second and fourth movements last exactly three and a half minutes. The length of the third movement (pizzicato) is exactly the difference in duration between the other movement pairs (i.e., precisely one minute). The mood of the score is generally harsh and brutal, with the slow epilogue standing apart from the previous movements and serving as a final, somewhat tragic, valedictory.
The quartet's movement titles are "Variazioni I," "Fantasma di Bartok I," "Variazioni Piccoli," "Fantasma di Bartok II," "Variazioni II," and "Epilogo." The work's duration is approximately sixteen minutes.
© 1982 by Christopher Rouse
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Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse