A composer may occasionally produce a work that defies any of his/her hitherto known penchant for a particular style. This can be viewed as a fresh approach, a revolution in style, or a temporary foray into unexplored territory. ‘Strange Quartet’ appears to fall into the latter category. Unlike most of her previous oeuvre this work is texturally conceived and explores the range of string timbres in an abstract milieu.
The macro structure falls roughly into a three-part mould in which the outer sections, (which are motivically related) present most of the material. The first section, which opens with a bold, dramatic gesture in triplets – almost throwing the proverbial gauntlet to the listener - consists of brief segments presenting the core material, which undergoes ‘development’ in quasi minimalist static textures.
This static textural interplay between instruments undergoes subtle motivic manipulation and explores a variety of string articulations (saltando bowing and Bartok pizzicatos are but a few) and cross-rhythmic effects. The composer appears to use material from various sources, and even though her expressed intention is not so, the roots of some of this rhythmic material appear to be African in concept and origin.
The middle section (which itself falls into three segments) is more reflective, less energetic and inward-looking. Canonic devices, coloured by a characteristically Judaic ‘lydian’ fourth degree, are framed on either side by an ‘optimistic’ melody in rising contour. At first this melody appears in unison over a C pedal, but at its repetition more textural activity in the Viola and Cello support the build-up of tension which lead back to a shortened reprise of the First section. The ‘gauntlet’ theme appears abruptly and then follows an almost exact reiteration of the opening bars of the piece. However, a surprise awaits one! The work closes with a wild semiquaver passage that seemingly comes out of nowhere!
Although ‘Strange Quartet’ appears to be a stylistic departure for the composer, elements which are her personal stamp still saturate the music, albeit approached in a somewhat oblique manner. Mirroring the ‘strangeness’ of Lewis Carroll, and dedicating the work to her mentor and teacher Ligeti, the composer quotes,
“There was a long pause. ‘Is that all?’ Alice timidly asked.
‘That’s all,’ said Humpty Dumpty. ‘Good-bye’”