Janus String Quartet (1983)
The Janus quartet was composed during a stay at the MacDowell colony in Peterborough, N.H. I was there during the months of November and December in 1983. As I started to work on the quartet the snow began to fall -- it was a very straight snowfall -- not a trace of wind. The windows of my studio looked out on stands of firs and slender birches. The opening of this quartet tries to capture that serenity. The theme is shared between the two violins; the viola and cello are playing a D harmonic with the viola playing the note a quarter tone higher. You probably won't experience this as another tone but as a beat or pulsing of the note. This section is titled ''when the snow is falling." There follows a lively melodic and rhythmic development which closes at midpoint in the piece with a section reflecting the quarter-tone pedal point of the opening and leading into a recapitulation of what I'll call the ''snow'' theme, this time with the theme dispersed through the four instruments. This recapitulation leads into the second section of the quartet titled ''Remembrance of things passed." You may hear an echo of Schumann, a short phrase from Barber's Adagio for Strings, perhaps too short to pick it out but these echoes set the mood of this section. A quote from Beethoven's 15th quartet heightens the drama and leads into a climax coming to rest on a calm, cantabile close. The cellist closes with a theme which has been used as an accompaniement to the little fragments of Schumann and Barber. It is a quote from a setting of Blake's poem INJUNCTION which I composed in 1962.
The Angel that presided o'er my birth said
"little creature born of joy and mirth
Go love without the help of anything on earth".