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