13 December 2015

Bronius Kutavicius: String Quartet No. 1

As mentioned in my last post, I had gone on a bit of a bender in a local music shop where I had managed to buy four scores by Lithuanian composers for around 10 euros. I had discussed Stasys Vainiunas's second piano concerto. This week I am returning to the Lithuanian giant Bronius Kutavicius. In this previous article I discuss Kutavicius's background as well as the phenomenal Gates of Jerusalem. In the aforementioned music shop, I had managed to grab myself a copy of Kutavicius's first string quartet.

The work is an intriguing curiosity for many reasons, firstly it was written in 1971 and it is an intriguing period of Kutavicius's music, as it is still searching for 'identity'. The piece is in three movements simply called: Con Sordino, Pizzicato, and Arco. The three movements in their Feldman-like no-nonsense naming do exactly what the titles say. This mentality would have been a welcome relief for many composers of this time, as it opened the door to more extreme forms of experimentalism, detaching themselves from the romantically obsessed older generations; as well as being able to not go out of the confines of Soviet decreed social realism.

Musically the piece is more akin to early Gorecki or Penderecki, which is of no real surprise due to how important the Warsaw festival was to composers in the iron curtain. The chaotic flourishes, combined with aleatoric devices make the piece truly wild, a far distance from the hypnotic repetitions often associated with the giant.

The first movement, Con Sordino, is almost in a free sonata form, with the two main contrasting materials: the extremely quiet running lines, and the chorale-like texture. The harmonic emphasis of the work is on a tetrachord of A, Bb, B, and C, four tones each a semitone apart. This symmetrical harmony is a definitive sign Kutavicius was incorporating serialism, a form of music that is often seen as a dirty word even now. 

The second movement, Pizzicato, starts with a canonic material incorporating glissandi and many other variations of pizzicato. Then we hear a 8 voiced chorale which leads to an almost recitative like line from the first violin who is interjected by the rest of the ensemble. The centre of the movement is extremely dense, but oddly quiet, as the pluck single notes, but also continue tapping the string. This produces a very dense but quiet rustling from the ensemble. This suddenly breaks into a manic firework of fortissimo plucks which slowly die away into a final hearing of a melody being passed around the ensemble, before the final cadential chord.

The final movement is oddly more traditional, this maybe due to the fact, arco is the basic premise of the instruments. The opening pulses combined with later tremolandi and harmonics, make the movement the most energetic and colourful . The finale of the movement harks back to the dense circling melody we initially heard in the opening movement before coming to a final close on a B. 

Below is a wonderful recording of the work by the Vilnius String Quartet. The piece is an interesting work, but by no means one of Kutavicius's highlights. This is not to degrade the piece in anyway, but Bronius Kutavicius's greatest moments have been his oratorios. Works like Gates of Jerusalem or Last Pagan Rites, are truly astounding. This quartet is a very well crafted work, and a wonderful edition for the ensembles historical canon, but Kutavicius's greatest moments leave this in the dark. This being said, it has been wonderful to delve deeply into this score as it really shapes and give a lot of context to both the life and work of Kutavicius, but also opens up how composers attempted to deal with the situation they were put in during the Soviet Union. 

Until next time, I wonder what gem I'll discuss.

No comments:

Post a Comment