I finished another string quartet today – or at least, a piece for string quartet. See, I was asked to write a string quartet, and my original idea was to write one in three movements. I’m not much of a three-movement kind of guy, though, and the idea I had for the first movement got too long and too formally all-encompassing to be a movement. So it grew into an imposing, probably too-long, 25-minute movement, called The Light Summer Land. To title it just String Quartet seemed misleading. But I still had these ideas for the other movements, so I went ahead and wrote the third one anyway. It’s a four-part canon at the major sixth, 13 minutes long, called Hudson Spiral – a companion piece to my nine-part triple canon Chicago Spiral, which I wrote in Chicago, and now I live in the Hudson Valley. I’ll probably finish the second movement as well, and that’ll be another independent piece. I don’t think they can all fit in the same, wrist-slittingly long piece, being based on unrelated ideas.
But I still don’t know what to say if someone asks whether I’ve written any string quartets. Before this year, I had written only one little six-minute piece for string quartet in just intonation, called Love Scene (2003) – actually an arrangement of a love scene from my opera The Watermelon Cargo. All the pitches are in the overtone series on C, and it’s a waltz in 3/4, but it still scares people away, and no one’s ever played it. So I always said I’d never written a string quartet, thinking of a string quartet as a rather sizeable piece. Wikipedia, which of course represents ultimate truth, states that “A string quartet is a musical ensemble of four string players… or a piece written to be performed by such a group.” Now I’ve written three pieces to be played by such a group. One of them, the big one, I can think of as a “string quartet.” The others are pieces. Or are they all just pieces for string quartet? It’s confusing.