For 2 violins, 2 violas, cello and contrabass with C extension ; 1969 ; Duration ca. 22 minutes

This composition was written as my Master's thesis at the University of Chicago and dedicated to Ralph Shapey, the finest, most uncompromising (if also most difficult) teacher I have ever known. To anyone familiar with his music, the influence of Shapey will be fairly obvious in my sextet, which critic Bernard Jacobsen called "barricade-storming .. intensely serious, even passionate, in emotional stance." Elliott Carter, Stefan Wolpe and Richard Wernick also provided thoughtful suggestions and criticisms on this work, which is the earliest of my compositions in which I still take considerable satisfaction.

The sextet is a technically demanding piece -- a high-water mark in the exploration of simultaneous, asynchronous and "irrational" metrical structures that fascinated me during my early and mid twenties. Conceived primarily in terms of rhythmic and textural patterns, the work employed no compositional system other than my ear, and was written in a comparatively brief period of time, despite frequent interruptions. It also was composed during a tumultuous period in my life when I was living at the edge as an anti-war draft resister at the height of the Vietnam war.

Each of the six sections is based upon self-contained thematic ideas. However, the sections do not function independently, in the manner of classical movements (they would sound fragmentary or inconclusive if performed out of context), but rather contribute to a broader pattern of inexorable movement and pacing that runs throughout the piece. Formally, the piece reflects an attempt to structure a large unit of time through a simple (and fairly traditional) pattern of alternating accumulation and release of tension. Extreme rhythmic/metrical tension generated in the opening section is gradually dissipated in a cello cadence and a static interlude, then regenerated texturally in sections four and five, and finally resolved in the concluding section.

PDF score excerpt
This is the first score page of the String Sextet

MP3 audio excerpt
This excerpt, from a concert performance by members of the Ossia ensemble, is from the very end of the piece, where thematic fragments from earlier sections of the work are recalled and re-combined with the cello theme that permeates the sixth section.
Duration : 2 minutes 37 seconds ; size 4.8 MB ; encoding 256 kBit stereo

This piece was premiered in 1969 by the Contemporary Chamber Players ensemble conducted by Ralph Shapey, and a recording by this ensemble was released on an Owl Records LP numbered ORLP-20 (out of print for several years). The most recent performance was given in Eastman's Kilbourn Hall on March 21, 2003 by members of the Ossia ensemble.

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