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John Harbison

Publisher: AMP

String Quartet No. 6 (2016)
Commissioned by the Lark Quartet, Telegraph Quartet, Tanglewood Music Center with the generous support of the Merwin Geffen, M.D. and Norman Solomon, M.D. New Commissions Fund, and the Ariel Quartet through support from Ann and Harry Santen and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
String Quartet
Year Composed
20 Minutes
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Programme Note
John Harbison String Quartet No. 6 (2016)
Composer note::
String Quartet No. 6 was commissioned by a consortium that includes the Lark, Ariel, and Telegraph quartets, and the Tanglewood Music Center. It is in four movements:

1. Lontano: At first, from a distance, then closer but still not joining, the first violinist stays physically, psychologically and temperamentally distant from the string trio, which plays in a relaxed, rural style.

2. Canto sospeso: A long melody is shared, explored, then suspended, eventually displaced and nearly abandoned completely. It reappears as a memory at the very end.

3. Soggetti cavati: Framing this brief episode, two sets of initials representing two American patriarchs. Distant point of orientation—the found object and the forthright plan.

4. Conclusioni provvisorie: Again the solo violin and the string trio, here in an encounter, at odds, but eventually revealing their common source in some very early vocal pieces which share the same words.

Performance Note:
In movement I, the first violinist first performs apart from the other players, adjusted to the conditions of the hall, as follows:
Station I: offstage, probably with open door, or within the hall but sonically and visually removed Station II: closer, but sill distinctly removed from the others (1/2 normal sound) Station III: closer, but still distinctly independent (3/4 normal presence) Station IV: standing next to normal place Station V: seated in the quartet

In the opening movement first violinist Deborah Buck played from the back of the concert hall, moved to a station near the stage, and eventually rose to the stage, and joined the trio to make a proper quartet… A question mark hangs suspended in musical air as the trio raises their bows to answer the first violin, yet the bows remain suspended in air. In silence we imagine the chord to be struck, but it is never struck, and so lingers in our head with paradoxically more effect than had that chord been struck. Harbison was by turns allusively traditional while toying with modern mechanisms.
Kevin T. McEneaney, Millbrook Independent,02/05/2017
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