String Quartet No. 12 (2007),
String Quartet No. 12 is my final Quartet. It is a work of extremes…tempi, dynamics, gesture, difficulty, mood, aesthetic among them. It is a polarized conception, and when it was finished I remember not wanting it to end. I knew this was my final statement in a medium in which I have luxuriated for over fifty years. It’s hard for me to believe, but my first attempt at writing a string quartet took place in 1957.
The many program notes I have written over the years often began: “the three note cell,” or “the five note gesture” or “the first two notes.” The Twelfth Quartet notes thusly begin: The four note cell played by the first violin at the outset generates the music that follows. It’s the way I make music. I know others, but I choose this way because I like the process, the conceit, the challenge, the idea of continuous evolution. You start with a gesture and you take it on a journey and with a hopefully steady hand you bring it to a point where those few initial notes have been illuminated.
The initial idea, which then acts as a catalyst for all that follows, has been a cornerstone of my craft since day one. Also, although my music often tells a story, it is maintained emphatically by me as well that the work is only about music and any extra notions are purely imaginary. Both are true. Music can only be about sound. Imbued with the baggage of the Western Canon, music readily conveys imagery associated with everything else. This Quartet is no exception.