String Quartet On B-Flat (1990, rev. 1993)

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Program notes:

String Quartet on B-flat was originally commissioned by the Harvard Musical Association for the Manhattan String Quartet.

I was not completely happy with that version. In this newly revised version I fixed a troublesome transition just before the triple meter "stomp" in the first movement and I cut out a whole section in the second movement. The final outcome is, structurally and musically speaking, tighter, smoother and more coherent than the original.

The work is in four movements. Each movement either "sits" on B-flat as its tonal center or it incorporates it prominently in the melody.

The first movement begins with a bold theme around B-flat. After an initial surge, a second theme appears in a chorale-like setting, ending with a viola solioquy. The music then accelerates into a triple-meter stomp. It ends hinting at the "waltz-like" melody first heard in the second theme.

The second movement is a "funky" scherzo! A parody of discofunkadelics!! Imagine a "far-out" string quartet backing up James Brown!!!

The third movement, "Lamentoso ... mazurka-like," is indeed a lament. The music sighs in falling gestures similar to those penned by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - father of the Empfindsamer Stil or "sentimental" style of the mid-18th century.

In the final movement, the B-flat pedal holds court in the upper strings while the viola and cello "comment." Eventually, the pedal rises step-by-step all the way to an F-sharp. This note eventually "resolves" down a fifth to B-natural, thus ending the movement one half-step higher than before.

Of course, this is not all there is to the movement. Along the way, music heard in the previous movements return as afterthoughts, memories and dreams ...

Premiere performance by the Manhattan String Quartet at the Harvard Musical Association in Beacon Hill, Massachusetts, April 20, 1990

Premiere performance of revised version by the Artaria Quartet of Boston at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, November 16, 1993

Subsequent performances were given by the Lydian String Quartet in Slosberg Hall, Brandeis University, January 29, 1994, and the Dance Theater Workshop in New York City, March 7, 1994; by the Artaria Quartet of Boston at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, April 22 & 25, 1994, and at Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin, May 3rd, 1994

Year composed: 1990
Duration: 00:19:00
Ensemble type: Unspecified Instrument(s):Ensemble
Instrumentation: 2 Violin, 1 Viola, 1 Cello
Instrumentation notes: String Quartet

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