Quartet for Strings No.3

on a purpose-selected tone row


1. Lento - Andante con moto
2. Grave
3. Scherzoso. Presto molto
4. Adagio molto
5. Presto con brio

Date Duration Listen
25 March 2012 21'35" Realization (.MP3) Score (.PDF)
29.6 MB 485 KB

Let me take this unique opportunity to be the very first acerbic critic to register virulent disapproval of this quartet: I don't like it. It suffers from precisely the same defect that most of Arnold Schoenberg's later works (and his quartets in particular) exhibit: it's too dense; there's too damned much contrapuntal involvement - and not nearly enough free-standing melody - in this piece. And that was precisely the lesson I was supposed to have learned from the Harmonic ╔tude No.10!

Now, - before some wiseacre pipes up and asks "Well, why did you publish it, then?" or "Why don't you fix it?" - let me hasten to observe that not liking the piece doesn't necessarily mean that I hate it. I don't really like much late Schoenberg, but I very much appreciate his mastery of harmonic and contrapuntal questions - and believe I understand why he generally wrote so densely: having worked out solutions to all the principal harmonic problems his tone rows presented (laboriously, by hand, no doubt, since accessible computers were nearly half-a-century away at the time he was working), he probably felt he would be short-changing posterity if he didn't display the full range of variation he'd discovered in those rows. It's essentially the same dilemma I faced in composing this quartet: having laboriously, by hand, over many months, constructed interlocking scripts that allow my computer to unravel the complete harmonic potential in any given tone row in a single-digit matter of seconds, I was confronted with an embarrassment of riches in source materials that inspired me to write in the densest, most compact and harmonically comprehensive manner possible.

It is what it is; and it has some intrinsic worth, I do believe.

Nonetheless, I berate myself that - apart from the Gro▀e Fuge, of course - Beethoven never would have written anything in such an unrelievedly severe style. OK, his Opus 95 quartet also hints very strongly toward this sort of compact density. But, generally speaking, Beethoven established series of intelligent melodies and varied them against successively more complex counterpoints in seemingly inevitable evolutionary developments. Beethoven never lost sight of the fact that effective complexity can only be grown from intelligibly transparent simplicity. And it is Beethoven, clearly, who must be the ultimate arbiter in all such questions - not Schoenberg. If I live to write another quartet, there will be more transparent melody in it: I so resolve. For the time being, however, this current effort must do.

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