For String Quartet

For several years I have been preoccupied with taking external sources as starting points for my pieces. Before Memory Palace, the sources were always non-musical, whether they were texts being set to music, (with or without voice as in A Gasp of Blue) paintings, photography, or ideas from novels.

In this piece, I took the first measure of Ravel’s Sonatine for piano, whose characteristic falling fourth has been linked to several other works by Ravel, and even suggested by Roger Nichols to be a tacit reference to his mother, as Jacques Février believed - substantiated by it’s appearance at the very end of L’Enfant et les sortilèges with the child singing “Maman!”. This extremely simply idea appears at first very fluid in length and sound - almost as if damaged or distorted. The way I approached some of the reappearances of this motif was not unlike the way in which an electronica artist might approach a “sample” - teasing out different characteristics of this very short excerpt. The opening section which plays with this repeating fragment through different lenses of string quartet sound leads through a fiery climax into a lengthy scherzo built around the minor third accompanying figuration. “Damage” or decay is evident here too, since many of the accompanimental figures in this part of the piece appear very frail, fleeting, and in some cases are barely audible. A second, more volcanic climax gives way to a state of almost total entropy. From here the music slowly begins to re-assemble itself into a second, briefer scherzo which shows glimpses of “repaired” versions of earlier material, before pushing on into a bright, ecstatic conclusion.

There are however many unrelated materials which arose unexpectedly out of the composition process - a fascination with rising chord sequences, a recurring pizzicato interruption, as well as detailed and scurrying pulsed music. The idea of “self-repair” as a trajectory in the work didn’t really occur to me until about half-way through its composition. This was a discovery which radically altered my plans for the remainder of the piece. Whatever one’s familiarity with Ravel and his music, I hope that any listener will find this work intriguing and surprising.

My warmest thanks to the Momenta Quartet for performing this work, and for their skill and wisdom during its preparation.