The Duo for Violin and Piano derives its character and expression from the contrast between its two very dissimilar instruments-- the bow-stroked violin and the key-struck piano. The mercurial violin music, at times intense and dramatic, at others light and fanciful, constantly changes its pace and tone of expression; the piano plays long stretches of music of consistent character and is much more regular both in rhythm and in style. The piano makes extensive use of the pedal to mask one sonority with another and then gradually to uncover the second- as in the very first measures. In fact, the long opening section for the piano forms a quiet, almost icy background to the varied and dramatic violin, which seems to fight passionately against the piano. After this beginning, the music is joined seamlessly until the end.
In the course of the work, the violin focuses on one aspect of its part after another- and often on two or more aspects at a time-playing in a rubato, rhythmically irregular style, while the piano constantly plays regular beats, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Toward the end, while the violin is involved in a very fast impassioned music, the piano becomes more and more detached, playing a series of regular rhythmic patterns, each successively slower than the previous one. As the piano reaches a point of extreme slowness, the violin is heard increasingly alone, isolating for a few measures at a time the various elements of its part, with the quiet and more lyrical aspects given more prominence than previously.
The general form is quite different from that of the music I wrote up to 1950. While this earlier music was based on themes and their development, here the musical ideas are not themes or melodies but rather groupings of sound materials out of which textures, linear patterns, and figurations are invented. Each type of music has its own identifying sound and expression, usually combining instrumental color with some "behavioral" pattern that relies on speed, rhythm, and musical intervals. There is no repetition, but a constant invention of new things-some closely related to each other, others, remotely. There is a stratification of sound so that much of the time the listener can hear two different kinds of music, not always of equal prominence occurring simultaneously. This kind of form and texture could be said to reflect the experience we often have of seeing something in different frames of reference at the same time.
-- Elliott Carter