Basically, as a composer, you can do what you feel that the music demands. At the same time, it can be extremely helpful to call on tradition to help make it more understandable to the audience.
I do not have extensive experience playing string quartets. My musical schooling was honed primarily in choirs. So my language has been deeply affected by this – which means that the vocal line is something I treasure even in instrumental playing. Like I mentioned in a previous post, the Prokofiev piano concerto no 3 has a very lyrical part in the middle of the third movement, which although it was a little difficult because it was as some say “up in the stratosphere”, it was so beautiful, and ended up being one of my favorite sections of the piece. It is also a line that reminds me of vocal writing, something you’d like to hum or sing, which can’t be said for many other string lines… some can be very disjointed and extremely challenging to sing.
The first movement I wrote ended up deeply affected by Felix Mendelssohn’s style, with the type of counterpoint that he likes using, even though I use my own harmonic and melodic language which is a lot more inclusive of all sorts of accidentals and at times sounds a bit atonal. For the second movement I decided to constrain myself to a waltz form, with the repeats traditional to that form. I was going for a piece that people would like to get up and dance to, at least after they got used to it.
So today when I sit down with some time on my hands to write more notes, I just google “third movement string quartet” and see that I have already broken tradition. Typically the second movement is a slow movement, but the third is a dance, like a menuett and trio. Now I have already written the dance movement and see that my challenge ought to be to write a slow, lyrical piece, that still feels like it is a part of the other two movements completed.
I’m thinking about how impatient I can sometimes be. How many notes I want to fit in, and how often when I’m sitting in orchestra, I’m actually having to count rests. Yes, this is a string quartet, but I don’t have to rush it. My challenge with this piece is to slow down. The harmonic changes will be slower. The piece will be perhaps more tonal as a result. I’m going to keep doublings to few in number, so that the harmonies can stay more interesting. I’m writing a Largo, which means that each note just takes more time, right now at a quarter note equals 56, which may change slightly. As I often don’t know, I also this time don’t know how long the piece will be, but trust that it will become apparent when it’s done.
And maybe at some point, I will change the order so that the Largo will be the second movement. I’ll decide that later.