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Joan Tower

Publisher: AMP

Incandescent (2003)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
String Quartet
Year Composed
18 Minutes

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Programme Note
Joan Tower Incandescent (2003)
First performance:
April 26 2003
Emerson String Quartet
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Composer Note:

The word incandescent is not one that I would usually include in a title because it seems to be more poetic than what I am thinking about. My titles are usually more up front and visceral, and in this case I would have preferred to call it White Heat, but was outvoted by friends who found that title carried too many associations (titles are not easy for composers — especially for me).

What I try to do in my music, and particularly in this piece, is create a heat from within, so that what unfolds is not only motivated by the architecture of the piece (which I consider the most important goal), but also that each idea or phrase contains a strong "radiance" of texture and feeling about it. In other words, the complete "action" of rhythm, texture, dynamic, harmony, and register has a strong enough profile that it creates an identity with a "temperature," one felt rather than observed.

In Incandescent, my third string quartet, basically five actions or ideas unfold, develop, interact, and gradually change their "temperatures." They are a three-note collection that initially appears as an upper and lower neighbor to a central note at the very opening of the piece and later turns around on itself repeatedly in the first violin; a repetitive, dense, held-in-place, and narrowly registered dissonant chord; a consonant arpeggiation that creases a "melody" distributed throughout the instruments; a climbing motive that initially outlines an octatonic scale (whole steps alternating with half steps) and later shifts into both whole-tone and chromatic scales; and, finally, wide leaps that first appear in the first violin and are subsequently picked up by the viola. The extended 16th-note passages that occur throughout, finally arriving at a virtuosic, Vivaldi-like cello solo, include all these motives in different guises and temperatures.

Incandescent, which is in one movement and lasts about 18 minutes, was a joint commission between the South Mountain Concerts and Bard College for the Emerson Quartet, to whom it is dedicated with admiration and affection.

— Joan Tower

Sample Pages

The Emerson String Quartet...rode the wave of semiquavers erupting from Joan Tower's INCANDESCENT...the 66 year-old American composer's dance of constantly transforming, radiant light deserved every single clap. Over 18 minutes, melodic motifs, choral crunches, and high diving leaps off the fingerboard sparked and fused in a flow of exhilarating invention.
Geoff Brown, The Times (London),01/01/0001
A chamber concert of works by Bard faculty composers included [the] notable premiere of Joan Tower's INCANDESCENT, commissioned for the Fisher Hall opening and performed by the Emerson String Quartet. The powerful 18-minute work, like Shostakovich but without the gloom, proved a brilliant acoustical test as the Emersons bathed listeners in a luscious string sound that you could almost reach out and caress.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,01/01/0001
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