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Leon Kirchner

Publisher: AMP

String Quartet No. 3 (1966)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
String Quartet
Year Composed
16 Minutes
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Programme Note
Leon Kirchner String Quartet No. 3 (1966)
Composer Note:
Before beginning my Third String Quartet I gave considerable thought to the particular attributes of electronic music. The electronic medium is frequently spoken of as absolutely unlimited in possibilities…and yet I think this is the area which is most problematic— and with computers even more so. By a third, if not second, performance of even an exemplary electronic piece, one develops a certain listener’s fatigue…it could be boredom. There is no ‘characteristic limit’ or instant accommodation to a brilliant whim or ‘accident.’ The subtle manifestations that are subject to human control in the great performers have little or no life at all in the electronic medium.

More interesting to me are the combinations of instruments with electronic sounds and filters. The instrumental qualities are then somehow reflected, extended, and enlarged. ‘Human involvement’ is of course essential, for the problems of composition remain the primary factors. My Third Quartet was written with all this in mind. I set out to produce a meaningful confrontation between the ‘new’ electronic sounds and those of the traditional string quartet— a kind of dialogue-idea in which the electronics are integral.

There is a great deal of talk these days about systems analysis, determination of rules, etc. But the act of total involvement, of physical and spiritual play, seems to be forgotten. Rules are valuable, and, with proper understanding, we can construct models from which invaluable information may be inferred. However, the adequacy of a rule is dependent upon highly refined and sensitive observation and, given an adequate rule, we must also understand that the variables (a most productive area) are difficult to ‘cover.’ When we grasp a fact by describing it there is no reason to assume that we have understood the total phenomenon. One of the naïve assumptions in the construction of computer music is that if one programs the parameters (duration, pitch, density, etc.) music should result. Granted competence in techniques, it is their use that is essential— and their characteristic use depends on the vast and total memory bank of the human mind. In this sense, the electronic sounds in my Quartet took four days to write, the notes forty years.

Music is an art, not a science. The recent almost exclusive involvement with the ‘substantive’ and the craze for ‘verification’ or ‘casual explanation’ seems to me to fossilize that art and make it bloodless…My Quartet No. 3 is not concerned with systems, rules, procedures— or that monstrosity known as ‘total control.’ I composed the work because of sheer musical urge. It was fun, and while I composed it I was very conscious of the joy of creating music.

— Leon Kirchner

  • Ensemble
    Beaux Arts Quartet
    Music & Arts Programs Of America :
  • Ensemble
    Boston Composers String Quartet
    Albany Records:
  • Ensemble
    Orion String Quartet
    Albany Records:
With its sci-fi touches, the taped element that Mr. Kirchner incorporates into his Third Quartet may strike some as a little quaint today: oscillating figurations, percolating plunks and bloops, kazoolike slides, birdlike whistles, rapid-fire explosions of skittish pitches. But Mr. Kirchner deftly uses the taped sounds to complement the strings in an organic, boldly episodic and formidable work.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,09/03/2007
Despite the inclusion of electronic tape effects, a technique Kirchner has generally avoided, the String Quartet No. 3 is a truly electrifying and highly accessible work, for which the composer won a Pulitzer Prize in 1967. The composer considered this a fun piece to write, and his joy and exuberance radiate from the score.
Peter Burwasser, Fanfare,01/01/0001
In the Third Quartet — a work for string quartet and tape, for which Kirchner won a Pulitzer Prize — the instrumental lines suggest a single, unified entity, rather than four distinct voices. There is a dialogue between the quartet and the spacey, sounds on the tape. But drama is more crucial than dialogue here, and the music is at its most effective when the quartet imitates and expands upon the electronic elements to create a vague but involving sense of narrative.
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times,01/01/0001
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