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Esa-Pekka Salonen

Publisher: Chester Music

Homunculus (2007)
Commissioned with a lead gift from The Islip Arts Council and Lillian & Maurice Barbash and support from Orange Country Performing Artscenter, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and Martha and Frank Salomon.
Chester Music Ltd
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
String Quartet
Year Composed
12 Minutes

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Programme Note
Esa-Pekka Salonen Homunculus (2007)
Homunculus is a short (circa 15 minutes) work for string quartet, which I wrote during the autumn months of 2007 for the Johannes Quartet.

I wanted to compose a piece that would be very compact in form and duration, but still contain many different characters and textures. In other words, a little piece that behaves like a big piece.

In Homunculus the four main characters (in order of appearance) are “Scherzo”, irregularly pulsating, jagged music; “Slow movement”, continuous metamorphose of an easily identifiable slow phrase; “Main movement”, intricate mid-tempo web of four voices densely woven together, and “Chorale”, a static, somewhat melancholy progression of chords. These characters, which in a traditional string quartet form would each form their own movement, are here interrupted by each other, and interspersed throughout the single movement of Homunculus. They keep developing and changing throughout the piece however, so when a character reappears it is rarely, if ever, an exact repetition of a previous appearance.

At the end the “Scherzo” music brings the piece to a violent climax on a C major chord in an impossibly high register followed by a long glissando down. All the other characters appear one more time. Homunculus ends with a prolonged chorale which in my ears sounds somewhat sad and deeply nostalgic.

The title of the piece refers to the arcane spermists’ theory, who held the belief that the sperm was in fact a "little man" (homunculus) that was placed inside a woman for growth into a child. This seemed to them to neatly explain many of the mysteries of conception.

I decided to call my piece Homunculus despite the obvious weaknesses of the 17th century theory, as my goal was to write a small scale piece that would nevertheless contain all the elements of a “fully grown” string quartet.

24 July 2009

Esa-Pekka Salonen

Sample Pages

  • 19 OCT 2018
    Country Premiere
    ZeitGenuss 2018 - Festival für Musik Unserer Zeit
    Karlsruhe, Germany
    Studierende der Hochschule für Musik und Ensemble TEMA
  • 16 JUL 2018
    St Wilfrid’s Church, Harrogate, UK
    Kamus String Quartet
  • 03 DEC 2016
    Mona Bismarck Fondation
    Quatuor Diotima
  • 04 NOV 2016
    White Light Festival
    Stanley Kaplan Penthouse, New York
    MMDG Music Ensemble
  • 12 OCT 2016
    Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative
    The Juilliard School, New York, NY
  • 12 OCT 2016
    Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Juilliard, New York
  • 18 APR 2015
    Milton Court Concert Hall, London
    Musicians from the New York Philharmonic
  • 28 MAR 2015
    Phoenix Chamber Music Society
    Phoenix, AZ
    Johannes Quartet
  • 22 MAR 2015
    Music in Deerfield
    Northampton, MA
    Johannes Quartet
  • 21 MAR 2015
    Peoples' Symphony Concerts
    New York, NY
    Johannes Quartet
  • 01 FEB 2015
    Creative Chair
    Tonhalle, Zurich, Switzerland
    Elizabeth Harr Inger-Pignat (violin), Cathrin Kudelka (violin), Antonia Winner (Viola), John Gürth (viola), Rafael Rosenfeld (cello), Gabriele Ardizzone (cello)
  • 04 NOV 2013
    CONTACT!: An Evening with Esa-Pekka Salonen
    Sub Culture, New York, USA
    Musicians from the New York Philharmonic
  • 20 JUN 2013
    Rockport Chamber Music Festival
    Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, MA
    Calder Quartet
  • 15 MAR 2013
    March Music Moderne
    Old Church, Portland, Oregon
    Arnica String Quartet
  • 04 DEC 2012
    Walt Disney Hall, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles Philharmonic
    Lionel Bringuier, conductor
  • 08 NOV 2012
    Esa-Pekka Salonen Portrait Concert
    Hertz Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA
    Gloria Cheng (piano), Kacy Clopton (cello); David Milnes, conductor
  • 09 SEP 2012
    Homunculus Country Premiere
    Expedition Salonen
    Konzerthaus Dortumund, Germany
    Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Pekka Kuusisto, violin / Lilli Maijala, viola / Peter Wispelwey, cello
  • 16 AUG 2011
    Salt Bay Chamberfest, Damariscotta, Maine, US
    Johannes Quartet
    Wilhelmina Smith (cello) Jennifer Koh (violin)
  • 14 AUG 2011
    Salt Bay Chamberfest
    Jennifer Koh
  • 18 FEB 2011
    Presence Festival
    Theatre du Chatelet, Paris, France
    Avanti! Chamber Orchestra
    Barbara Hannigan, conductor
  • 27 MAR 2010
    Washington Irving High School, newy York, New York
    The Johannes String Quartet
  • 19 APR 2009
    Homunculus Country Premiere
    String Quartets at the House of Nobility
    Helsinki, Finland
    New Helsinki Quartet
  • 19 APR 2009
    House of Nobility, Helsinki, Finland
    New Helsinki Quartet
  • 21 MAR 2009
    Kansas City, MO
    The Johannes String Quartet
  • 07 FEB 2008
    Homunculus World Premiere
    Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, USA
    The Johannes String Quartet

    Other Dates:
    9 February - Rackham Auditorium, Ann Arbor, USA
    12 February - Pennsylvania State University Center for the Performing Arts, USA
    13 February - Independence Museum, Philadelphia, USA
    15 February - Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, USA

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