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String Quartet



I. C4: Variations on C

II. a2+b2=c2

III. The Laws of Motions

IV. Murphy's Law

V. The Theory of Every-String



20 minutes



February 28, 2008

Honolulu, Hawaii, USA


Chandra Susilo, violin

Richard Lee, violin

Michael-Thomas Foumai, viola

James Gochenouer, cello


The String Quartet No.1 is inspired by a mathematical approach to theoretical physics known as “string theory.” Inherently, the theory of strings is very difficult to explain. Fortunately, string theory as it is known in the realm of mathematics, has nothing to do with this piece. Instead, the theory made for a neat play on words and a great title for a new work. Thus, in keeping with a scientific approach, the quartet is a kind of science experiment in composition.



Spanning the entire spectrum of music itself, any tangible musical idea can be varied. Most commonly, a melody is varied, but why not a single pitch. In hisMusica Ricercata, Ligeti explored a unique form of serial chromaticism of which his first movement is based on one pitch. Likewise, these variations on C are exclusive to the “letter” C but not limited to its sounding pitch.

“C” can be viewed as having two paths of interpretation: pitch and key. In this movement, C is varied in pitch and performance. “C” can be performed, especially with stringed instruments, in a multitude of techniques. Violins tuned in scordatura employ exclusive use of Bariolage between a fingered C and open C on what would normally be an open E string. Use of left and right hand techniques lend various color changes, yet nowhere is there more a juxtaposition of variation with the source, than with written “C” itself. Middle C and its location both in treble and bass clef is a pitch with dual identity. Depending on how it is viewed, it is very possible to attain all 12 pitch of the chromatic scale, and maybe a few quartertones here and there.


II. a2 + b2 = c2

The Pythagorean theorem is one of the earliest mathematical theorems known to ancient civilizations. Named after the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, the theorem states, “The area of the square built upon the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares upon the remaining sides.” So influential is this theorem, it has gone on to become the center of Geometry and its forerunner. Many composers have used the equation to base their works. This is not one of those pieces. This is a movement that stands to stretch melody to it’s barest component and proposes a new theorem based in music: A + B + C = Melody.



Written in a “Glassian” style, this movement is inspired by none other than Issac Newton’s three universal laws of motion. Originally written as a separate piece titled Metamorphosis, after the story by Franz Kafka in which a man psychologically mutates into a roach, the piece tended to follow a basic principle of which Newton, with some help, seemed to describe with stunning accuracy: [Music] in motion tends to stay in motion.



Murphy's Law is a popular saying in Western culture that states:” things will go wrong in any given situation, if you give them a chance. In other words if there are multiple possibilities of doing something, and one of those possibilities will end in some sort of disaster, someone will do it that way. Likewise, this movement is game or kind of musical rubiks cube. Given several parameters, performers will use their instruments and ears in an exercise of telepathic communication, if done correctly!



Inspired by a hypothetical theory that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena, this final movement has nothing to do with theory, theoretically. The piece, an obvious a play on words, features arpeggiando bowing across “all the strings.” Mathematically, the theory of everything doesn’t apply here, however in the spirit of complete synthesis, it’s very possible to suspect sections taken from previous movements.


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