16 January 2016

Erkki-Sven Tuur: String Quartet

I had been tossing and turning thinking about what piece to show this week, and I came to the decision that actually its about time I discuss this figure. Erkki-Sven Tuur (1959*) is quite the Estonian giant and is important to Estonia for two major reasons; his musical eclecticism and sheer vibrancy. He first started his musical career in the progressive rock band Spe heavily influenced by Frank Zappa, and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Shortly after this period he dove into 'classical' composition. He studied with Jaan Raats and Lepo Sumera and studied electronics in Karlruhe, Germany.

His music has a great vibrancy and energy and is never afraid to include various musical devices or strategies into pieces like bringing serialist language in combination with minimalistic repetitions and cycles. Even though the string quartet (1985) is not the strongest piece by Erkki-Sven Tuur, I felt compelled to talk about this one first, as it was the first piece of his I found. The colour and clarity of the two movement work really struck me.

The two movements are very direct episodic movements, with the first being about half the length of the second movement. The first movement closely resembles a rondo or ritornello form loosely following this shape:
A - B - C - B1 - C1 - A

A - is a monophonic texture with the quartet musically playing in unison, the harmony is vaguely tonal, but contradicts itself as it is never clearly Bb major or Eb major for example.

B - is a more animated episode with driving arpeggios in the violins while the viola and cello wait before interacting with it.

C - is a still moment, with the cello playing a harmonic glissando to colour the circling notes in the other three instruments.

The directness is treated remarkably as  it never feels predictable.

The second movement is far more extensive in its evolution, but follows a similar basic shape to the first movement. It vaguely references the same kind of shape, but feels more elegant in its construction. The second movement is as follows:
A - B - A1 - B1 - C - B2 - A2 - Reiteration of opening material of 1st movement.

A - is growing tremolandi 

B - is a burst of circling notes, combined with an arpeggiated gesture

C - is a sustained chord of Db, F,G,Ab.

It is a wonderful and approachable work, which made me fall in love with the composer's work. In larger scale works like the symphonies or concerti, the pieces are far more profound and elegant; this is by no means a condescending message for his chamber works like this quartet. It is hard not to love his work. You can hear the string quartet here  and you can find out more about Erkki-Sven Tuur here; alternatively you can find him on twitter.

See you next time, when I am likely to come back to wittering about lovely Lithuanians. 

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