More work on the string quartet

I’m opening up the score for the string quartet, and it’s really fun! I’m seeing where the melody left off, where the parts left off, and try to write a little on each part, one or two phrases at a time, so that they all feel like they are part of the improvisation that isn’t really an improvisation. But I keep in mind that all the players want to play something that is meaningful. It has to fit with the rest, and they have to alternate having the carrying line.

I’m thinking that the studying of counterpoint proves pretty helpful at this point. J.S. Bach wrote so much contrapuntal work that his work is probably some of the most inspiring – but there are others too. Handel, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bartok, Schoenberg, Webern, just to name a few great ones.

It’s the idea that you have a theme that is short and concise, that you vary. You let each instrument say something, sometimes as the main melody, and other times as more of an accompaniment, but each new phrase will usually change the constellation of who leads and who supports. It’s very much like a dance.

So I find myself writing a few measures for the viola, and some for the second violin, etc, each time ending a little after the other line, so that it’s kind of like a puzzle, where each new idea has to fit into the framework I’m creating, and as I’m fitting the new idea into the framework, I also extend the framework for the next line to fit into.

At one point, the two violins and the viola all come to an end of their phrase at the same time, so that prepares the way for the cello to take the lead. Next, I write in a contrapuntal line in the first violin, and it ends about five beats after the cello line. The second violin comes in with the first violin, but then it diverges, and the phrase ends five beats after the first’s. Next comes the viola. I decide to give it a measure of rest before coming in, and then I write a contrapuntal line for this instrument. This time I keep going for twelve beats after the second violin before I feel like the line is ended.

That maneuver means that I have twenty-two beats where the cello has nothing, but at least one other instrument has something. So that will be the next place where I put my attention. And I write a line for the cello, and I write until the end of the viola line, and then I see that I have an opening for a transition to something different. It’s a minute into the piece, and I feel content with having given an exposition to the first theme in that minute. There is enough repetition, and enough variation that I feel pretty content with the balance.

Next time, I’ll finish up the end of the exposition in all the instrument, and allow the upper three to join in the new part. Ha! That will be fun.

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