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Richard Reed Parry

Publisher: Chester Music

Quartet for Heart and Breath (ensemble version) (2009)
Quartet for Heart and Breath was commissioned for Kronos Quartet by the 2009 MusicNOW Festival. The mixed ensemble arrangement was premiered by yMusic.
Chester Music Ltd
Small Ensemble (2-6 players)
Sub Category
Mixed Ensemble
Year Composed
7 Minutes
Alternate Orchestration
Other instruments could be used, utilising octave substitutions where necessary
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Programme Note
Richard Reed Parry Quartet for Heart and Breath (ensemble version) (2009)
Composer’s Note

This piece is based around the idea of using the widely varying internal rhythms of the performers’ bodies as performance parameters. There is no actual tempo or meter built into the piece. The breathing rates of the players are used in alternation with the individual performers’ heart rates to determine the pace at which all of the musical material is played. This requires that the performers generally play quietly and delicately, with little or no vibrato, so as to be able to hear their heartbeats adequately. This, in combination with the natural variance between the different heart rates, results in a kind of delicate musical “pointillism”: starts and stops which are somewhat staggered, parts which repeatedly line up and fall out of synch with each other, different individuals’ pulses rising and falling. The piece is never performed exactly the same way twice.

Performance Note

All instruments are amplified. The performers wear stethoscopes positioned over their hearts so that each can follow his or her own heart rate. Two eighth notes/quavers correspond to the two sounds of a normal heartbeat, and performers should match as closely as possible the staccato and irregular rhythm they hear. When instructed to ‘play to breath’, the natural cycle of one inhalation and one exhalation, or vice versa, will determine the length of the bar (two quartet notes/crotchets) without any attempt to make it metronomic. For wind players this means that the phrase is extended to encompass the whole of their natural breath, without straining to hold for as long as possible. When one instrument is designated the leader, their breath will determine the starts of phrases and the procession from one bar to the next, cuing other parts if necessary.

Score sample

  • Ensemble
    Kronos Quartet
    Nadia Sirota, Richard Reed Parry, Bryce Dessner, Aaron Dessner
    Nico Muhly
    Deutsche Grammophon:
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