Elliott Schwartz- Quartet No 2 ‘For Louise and Aaron’

Posted on July 26th, 2012 by

Elliott Schwartz- Quartet No 2 ‘For Louise and Aaron’ 

Playing Elliott Schwartz 2nd Quartet at the Waterloo Festival-13th July (Photo Courtesy PGW)

European Premiere. 13th July 2012 St Johns Church, Waterloo (Waterloo Festival)

Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Morgan Goff, Neil Heyde) Recording Courtesy Colin Still (Optic Nerve)

With composer Elliott Schwartz, his wife, artist Deedee Schwartz, and writer Malene Skaerved. Portland, Maine-August 2011. Breakfast, and plotting more developments for our Jefferson/Cosway project

The Composer Writes

When in the spring of 2007 I began making sketches for a new string quartet, the piece was to be a homage to Aaron Copland. This was in response to a conversation I had a year earlier with Stephen Soderberg of the Library of Congress music division. He informed me that Copland, near the end of his career, began composing a chamber work based on a particular twelve-tone row, but left the work unfinished. Steve Soderberg also revealed the actual tone-row, and I became quite interested in using the Copland row in my own quartet.

During the summer of 2007, however, I found myself at the Jewish Museum in New York, attending a formidable show of Louise Nevelson’s sculptures. The art works, individually and collectively, were overpowering in their size and scale.  They were also paradoxical in their unique evocation of immense variety (components made of found objects, driftwood, doorknobs, bedposts and the like) and their monolithic unity (all the components painted the same color and fitted into identical cubicles). The Nevelson pieces struck me as surprisingly musical, and related in various ways to aspects of my own work – particularly my great interest in “texture” and my fondness for incorporating fragments of pre-existing compositions (musical found objects) into my own narrative. They also reminded me of Copland’s similar use of American folk tunes in his great ballet scores. Moreover, I was fascinated by certain parallels in their lives. They were born within a year of each other – 1900 and 1899 – to Russian-Jewish families that had emigrated to America (his to Brooklyn, hers to Rockland, Maine) and had lived to ages 90 and 89. Each had escaped a stifling home milieu to study abroad, and each returned to America to become dominant figures in their respective New York “scenes.” Each became widely known, not only as creative artists but as personalities, memorable and quotable, with strong esthetic beliefs that they didn’t hesitate to put into words.

My original idea of a Copland homage thus evolved into a double homage to both of these remarkable artists. The titleString Quartet No. 2: for Louise and Aaron reflects the duality of the finished composition.  In this one-movement work I’ve tried to capture some of the monolithic quality of Nevelson’s sculpture, by creating lengthy passages with a single textural focus. The details within the textures, however, are often composed of Copland pitch-fragments. Moreover, Aaron Copland’s final tone-row is present in a variety of guises (in fact, it dominates much of the quartet), and I have employed musical spellings of both artists’ names. Finally, the music incorporates elements of a Polish-Russian lullaby tune, one which Copland himself had used in a simple piano-teaching piece, and which seemed appropriate in a work which (beneath its surface textures) celebrates common roots.

Elliott Schwartz