"String Quartet" (2003)
Forte Piano, Piano, Guitar, and Harp

Robert Morris

Program Notes

During the Summer and Fall of 2003, I wrote three pieces based on strict canons for various instruments. The first was Après vous for guitar solo, the next Cañon for piano solo, and the last, a twelve-minute piece for forte-piano, piano, harp, and guitar. Unlike other pieces, the title for this one popped right into my head: "String Quartet", with the quotes as part of the title indicating that the piece is a special string quartet, not the usual ensemble of two violins, viola and cello. I was drawn to this combination for instruments because I wanted to write something for the forte piano and the entire ensemble has a kind of "watery" sound, a texture that connotes flow and gentle turbulence. To this end, the last section of the work could be said to depict a flowing stream together with winding tributaries and small waterfalls.

The canonic features of the structure also contribute to this effect. Unlike the two preceding pieces, this work was based on canons by inversion as well as transposition, and its harmonic language is richer, featuring all six-note chords that are inversionally symmetric. There are three movements to the piece. First, there's "pro" involving solos for all except harp; then comes "proper" for instruments in groups of two or three with a harp solo in the middle; the piece ends with an extended section of about three minutes for all instruments called "improper." The movement names are of course jokes. The piece is not really a quartet until the last section, which is an "improper"* subset of the quartet, thus "proper" before that and "pro" to start things off; and besides, the piece was never a proper string quartet in the first place.

* An improper subset of a set S is the whole set S; the proper subsets are actual subsets of S.