We’re excited to announce that Fred has finished Chaconne! He offers this description of the new piece.
Also, enjoy this excellent recording of Fred’s There and Back Again, an earlier work in a similar form. The cellist is Sietse-Jan Weijenberg, from a performance at the 2013 contemporary music week in Auvillar, France.
I have completed Chaconne for string quartet, funded by a project grant from New Music USA. It is written for the 15th anniversary of the wonderful Daedalus Quartet, which commissioned my Third String Quartet and which has recorded all three of my quartets (Bridge Records 9352). Daedalus will premiere Chaconne in early 2017, and in the 2017-18 season they will tour with it in Germany as well as the United States.
When Daedalus approached me about composing another piece for them, my reaction was mixed. I wanted very much to work with them again, but I felt that with my three string quartets, which form a 70-minute cycle when performed together, I had exhausted what I had to say in that medium. The only path forward was to cast the medium differently. I have often worked in some kind of variation form, usually spiral form, in which variations expand from one to the next, yielding asymmetrical phrases and sections. The three-quartet cycle was composed in this way. But a few years ago I wrote a short solo cello piece, There and Back Again, based on a 17th-century chaconne, with each variation four bars long. I decided to pick up that thread and compose a large chaconne for Daedalus based not on asymmetrical expansions but on symmetrical periodicities.
Chaconne is in one movement lasting about 19 minutes. Unlike a Baroque chaconne, it is built not on a bass line but on an abstract structure. Each variation is eight bars long, divided equally into paired phrases. The piece begins by assembling this structure and soon introduces a melodic sequence, D-A-E-D-A-Eb, taken from the name DAEDAluS (Eb in German is “Es”). This sequence fits smoothly into my particular harmonic and voice-leading syntax. The motive appears and disappears throughout the piece.
It has been a challenge to compose constantly with symmetrical paired phrases. To avoid squareness, I have introduced all kinds of overlaps and displacements. The variations flow one to the next without pause; at times the boundaries are almost concealed. A still greater challenge has been to give logic to the sequence of variations. (This must have been a problem for Bach and Brahms, too.) I have built three large cycles of variations, each cycle about 17 variations long. Within each cycle, the variations move gradually from longer to shorter note values, leading to a climax and subsequent dissolution. The cycles cross-reference each another inexactly. In this way I have created a large form that is strict yet free.
My three-quartet cycle inhabited an expressive world that is intense and inward, a kind of psychological excavation. With Chaconne I have instead sought an expressive world that is outward and transparent, one that projects delight in playful patterns.
Stay tuned for an announcement of the premiere and more performances of the piece!