Arc (1988, r. 2009)
String Quartet

Robert Morris

Program Notes

My second string quartet, Arc, written in the summer of 1988, starts and ends with the cello alone. At the beginning, the cello's lines spill into the rest of the quartet producing an increasingly complex web of polyphony ending on a long held C-natural from which the the first main section of this extended one-movement piece begins.

This first section is characterized by various extroverted gestures that give and take between all the instruments. Four other large sections, all variations of the first, follow, separated by interludes. The second main section is marked by mixtures of pizzicato and arco phrases that project a turbulent texture of figures that relate to each other and highlight the basic materials of the piece. Extended passages of pizzicato surrounded by other types of sounds and/or silence distinguish the third section. The fourth section is like the second but its pacing is more relaxed. Repeated notes at different speeds and double stops project the last harmonically conceived fifth and last section, leading to the climax of the work. A coda leads to the final cello solo.

Along the way, the five main sections are separated by interludes, each of which is scored for only three of the four members of the quartet. The four interludes and the coda each reflect the music from one of the five large sections. These reflections are positioned symmetrically so that, for instance, the first interlude presages the last section, and the coda "remembers" the first section. This gives the entire piece an arch form; hence its title.