About this work:
Distilling the elements of the multi-movement sonata cycle and sonata-allegro form into a single extended movement has absorbed my attention on and off since the late 1960s. Perhaps it is the belief that expressivity may be rendered more powerful by
structural concision that has lured me so often to invent these short, fantastic pieces. Whatever the personal reasons, this preoccupation has resulted in compositions that, I believe, represent my work at its best. Chief among these is the quintet for strings, which was completed in December 1979 and is
dedicated to the memory of my parents.
Unlike most string quintets, which employ a second viola as their fifth instrument, mine, like Schubert's justly renowned masterpiece, calls for a second cello, the choice of which tends to imbue the ensemble with both greater strength and a darker
chiaroscuro. The music is virtually continuous but divides itself into sections that are clearly differentiated by tempo and treatment of thematic materials. The quintet's one movement is framed by sustained passages of great intimacy, while the two
energetic fast sections, which surround another slow section, may be thought of as the exposition and development sections respectively of the work. Of special note is the way in which tempo is treated: in prefatory remarks appended to the score the performers are enjoined to play in a kind of tempo rubato whose roots may be found in that practice as it was developed by the Romanticists of the last century and by those composers who cultivated the empfindsamer Stil during the mid-eighteenth century. In the fast sections the performers are instructed to
permit the tempo to accelerate and retard somewhat according to their understanding of the expressive requirements of the music.
When this music is heard as I intended it to be, I hope that it will be as if it were a living, breathing organism, revealing innumerable subtle changes with each new encounter. It is the kind of music that I trust will never succumb to the temptations of the "machine in the garden."
Quintet for Strings was given its first performance by the Meridian String Quartet assisted by cellist Roger Shell on a concert presented by The Concord Contemporary Ensemble, directed by Laura Medlin, at Queens College on December 7, 1993. It has been recorded by the Meridian Quartet with cellist Wolfram Koessel for Arizona University Recordings (AUR CD 3112).
Score and parts available from Mira Music Associates. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Review: "The use of snap pizzicato, sul ponticello bowing, and harmonics was fairly ubiquitous—so much so that the austere expressionism and restrictive timbral palette of the concluding quintet by Allen Brings came as a refreshing contrast. This single movement work in a fairly conventional form had an unambiguous trajectory, clarity of voicing, and careful exposition of harmonic timbres—pure composition at its finest. I was ready to listen to it again as soon as it was finished."
Version: 2 violins, viola & 2 celli
Year composed: 1979
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Other Combinations, 2-5 players
Instrumentation: 2 Violin, 1 Viola, 2 Cello