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Episodes 2
for string quartet
(2007)

 

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This is the second composition I call Episodes. The first (for a mixed sextet of instruments) was written as a series of isolated dramatic episodes that could have been based on moments from a person's life. Similarly, dramatic movements are used in Episodes 2, but here they also function as part of a large dramatic structure. Therefore, although there is no actual story, the movements of Episodes 2 function like the episodes of a drama.

This piece began with the contemplation of the dramatic potential of musical intervals. I decided to use one or two intervals as the primary musical materials for each movement, focusing on only certain dramatic possibilities for each interval. Motives and melodies were then created from those basic materials. Although one need not understand musical intervals in order to appreciate this music, I have included some discussion of them here for anyone who might be interested. A brief explanation of both the drama and the intervals of each movement follows:

I (Prologue)
This is a simple introduction. It begins calmly with major seconds and then introduces the primary intervals that will be used in movements II, III, and IV (the dramatic movements) respectively. Each interval is imitated (or copied) by all of the instruments so that a texture of echoes is created, but no melody or obvious chords are heard. Eventually, a single unaccompanied melody presents the primary intervals of each movement in the order of their appearance.

II (Anticipation and Disappointment)
The subtitle of this movement describes its dramatic structure. At the start, major thirds are used to create an excited, energetic and nervous optimism, but this mood is eventually destroyed by violent dissonances and angry musical gestures. Disappointment then follows with an expressive melody. Dramatically, this movement presents the conflict that drives the entire composition forward.

III (Quiet Despair)
This movement describes the aftermath of a tragic event, or a jarring loss. The intervals of a major seventh and its inversion, the minor second, are used for expressiveness and a sense of mourning. After a climax of sadness, the movement ends with the intervals being played as a simple expression of quiet despair.

VI (Solace and Hope)
Solace, as moral support and comfort in a time of need, appears here in the form of quiet chords. Dramatically, a solo melody expresses concern or sadness and the chords comfort it. With the influence of the chords, the melody becomes brighter and more hopeful, hence the subtitle of this movement. The primary interval that begins this movement is a minor third, while the chords use perfect fifths. As the melody becomes brighter it begins incorporating the perfect fifths (and/or perfect fourths) that were first introduced by the chords.

V (Epilogue)
Similar to the first movement, all of the primary intervals appear in the Epilogue. In fact, the same melody that was played in the prologue now returns, but it is first heard backwards so that the brightness of the perfect fifth (originally the last interval) can be heard first. When the melody returns in its original form, however, a sense of tension intrudes. Dramatically, one can think of this effect as a protagonist contemplating past events, but from various different perspectives. Sometimes a more optimistic interpretation is heard, while at other times a sense of anxiety, tension or sadness arrises. In the end, the melody settles on to a perfect fifth (the last interval of the series) and a sense of open stability.

(performance duration ca. 24 minutes)