Three generations of American composers are represented on this recording by the Ciompi Quartet. Aaron Copland's Movement and Two Pieces, his only works for string quartet, were written in the 1920's. Robert Ward's First String Quarter was written in 1960 and is to date his sole essay in the genre, as is Stephen Jaffe's First Quartet, which was completed in 1991. The works on this disc thus span nearly seventy years, a period during which composition in the U.S. has established a strong and tremendously diverse native tradition. Many composers of Aaron Copland's generation had gone abroad to learn their craft, seeking the stimulus of Paris and its dazzling artistic climate, and they brought back with them a desire to foster a more vibrant musical atmosphere at home. It was Copland in particular who professed the need for a distinctly American music, and in this he succeeded so well that he has become an archetype, an American voice of unassailable distinction. His leadership and his advocacy of American music sparked the ambition of a generation of American composers. Robert Ward emerged in mid-century as an advocate of tonality. His work has an unselfconscious clarity and directness more rooted in the vernacular than that of most of his contemporaries. Coming from the postwar period it is especially striking, given the often uncompromisingly cerebral aesthetic that has dominated much avant-garde music of the era. Ward's links to the American and European traditions are borne easily and openly. Stephen Jaffe brings a diverse palette of techniques and textures to his music. He is alive to the influence of past masters as well as less traditional, non-western sources. Dense and jagged here, elsewhere relaxed and atmospheric, his music pursues a very personal concept of beauty that is both direct and complex. The string quartet is the lens through which we view the three personalities on this recording, providing in each case our only chance to see how the composer has addressed himself to the string quartet's venerable compositional challenges.
The Movement for String Quartet of Aaron Copland lay forgotten for many years until it was found among the composer's manuscripts at the Library of Congress by his biographer, Vivian Perlis. It was written and probably performed, according to Perlis, between 1921 and 1924 while Copland was studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. During that period he also composed the Rondino movement from Two Pieces for String Quartet. Several years later, in 1928, Copland wrote another movement, the Lento Molto, which he decided to couple with the Rondino for a performance that year. The pairing stuck, and they were subsequently published together. The single movement was approved for performance and publication by
the composer after its rediscovery in the early 1980's, It appeared in 1988 and carries a dedication to Vivian Perlis.
Three separately conceived movements have thus come down to us. It is easy to see why Copland grouped the lento Molto and Rondino together as a unit. In the search for his own compositional voice, he must have felt these pieces expressed his current musical aims convincingly. The Two Pieces have a style that is more recognizably Copland's than what we find in the Movement, which has strong echoes of Stravinsky and the Impressionist composers. Perhaps this accounts for the early neglect of that work; the composer may have felt at the time that it was too much indebted to the spirit of Paris in the early 20's to send it out into the world as his own. The Movement, recorded here for the first time, nonetheless sheds important light on the development of Copland's mature style, and in its own right it is a very successful work. One has to marvel at the suavity of the piece, its compelling, if at times vaguely derivative material, at how easily and well the sections (slow-fast-slower) fit together, and its general compositional precocity. Copland was no late bloomer.
The lento Molto is introspective and slightly abstract in feeling, yet it has a strong visceral appeal. The tremendous chordal crescendo and climax at the center of the movement calls to mind Barber's better known Adagio for strings; Copland's movement is, to this listener, equally powerful and perhaps a bit more elegantly laconic. One senses that this piece, which his mentor Nadia Boulanger called "a masterpiece...so moving, so deep, so simple," expresses the composer's talents to the fullest measure.
The Rondino shows off Copland's familiar penchant for angular rhythms. One rhythm— a jazzy syncopation—propels the piece from start to finish, either in the foreground of the music or submerged as accompaniment. The piece also has a cool, abstract feel, making
prominent use of canonic counterpoint and whole-tone intervals.
Robert Ward, Pulitzer Prize winner for his opera The Crucible, studied at the Eastman School of Music, the Juilliard School, and the Berkshire Music Center. He has taught at Queens College, Columbia University, Juilliard and Duke University where he held the Mary Duke Biddle Chair in Music. He was the Director of the Third Street Music School Settlement, and he became the President of the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1967. His operas, symphonies and chamber works, as well as his choral works, concerti, shorter orchestral works and songs have been heard frequently through performances and recordings in the United States and abroad. Dr. Ward is the artistic director of Triangle Opera Theater in Durham, North Carolina.
Robert Ward's First String Quartet is in three movements, the first of which is the longest and most serious. The second and third movements counter-balance the first with their lighter mood, more dance-like rhythms, and their shorter, less involved forms. The whole work has an air of sophisticated playfulness that seems to draw upon American popular music as well as the cool Gallic sensibilities of Debussy and Ravel. Ward has written of his quartet:
"By the time of the composition of the First String Quartet, I had reached the conclusion that two cardinal principles prevailed in those works, new or old, which make a lasting impression on a listener. The first is that a work must be based on provocative musical ideas that are clearly stated and, in the case of longer works, are stimulating to the composer's creative powers. The second is that an aesthetically satisfying work unfolds in sounds which produce waves of alternating tension and relaxation in the listeners, commanding their full attention. I had arrived at these conclusions through the analysis of many works of all periods. In these principles I found the rational explanation for the degree of impact or non-impact which any given work makes on the audience. The second principle, when extended into detailed analysis of all the various musical elements, made clear why such forms as the song and rondo, the sonata, and fugue and variation, had proved so useful to so many composers over the centuries. It also opened up a wealth of new possibilities for utilizing the innovations of composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Bartok and Schoenberg, and for combining new structural patterns with the old.
I have never found atonality compatible to my musical nature and ideas. I share Hindemith and Bartok's well considered conclusions that tonality is related to deep natural acoustical phenomena. Neither could I think of sacrificing the profound expressive potential of tonal modulation. Nevertheless, I have used twelve tone procedures in the opening of my First String Quartet, The row occurs thirty-two times, and the motive twenty times, in various permutations. Six statements form a fugato and three others a chorale. The large structure has a pattern of recurrence of certain sets of variations and the tonal characteristics of sonata form. While the outer movements of the work are examples of combining 20th<entury and traditional forms, the scherzo of the quartet is a classical song-form with trio. Only the irregular rhythm of the melodies and its more astringent harmonies place the movement in this century."
Born in Washington, D.C., Stephen Jaffe received his training in composition at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Conservatoire de Musique in Geneva, Switzerland. In addition to a Premiere Medaille from that institution, he has been the recipient of the Rome
Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and fellowships from Tanglewood, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Stephen Jaffe's music has been commissioned by the Fromm and Naumburg Foundations, the Da Capo Chamber Players, and the New Hampshire Symphony, and introduced by musicians such as the conductors Hugh Wolff and Robert Black, the mezzo soprano Katherine Ciesenski, and pianists Anton NeTand Barry Snyder. Jaffe's music has been widely performed throughout the U.S. and in Europe by ensembles including the R.A.I, of Rome, Spectrum Concerts Berlin, the San Francisco and New Jersey Symphonies, and the New York New Music Ensemble; it has also been recorded on CRI. Citing his "eloquentand individual voice" in 1989 Brandeis University awarded Jaffe its Creative Arts Citation. Stephen Jaffe is on the faculty of Duke University, where he directs the contemporary music series Encounters—With The Music Of Our Time. Commissioned by the Ciompi Quartet with funding provided by the Friends Of The Ciompi Quartet, the Chamber Arts Society, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and a New Works Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, Stephen Jaffe's First Quartet was one of four winners of the 1991 Kennedy Center Freidheim Awards for Excellence in Chamber Music Composition.
What has impressed many listeners about Stephen Jaffe's First Quartet is its large scale, or put another way, the degree to which it successfully fills and animates the large territory it has staked out for itself. Jaffe avoided writing a quartet earlier in his career, preferring to wait until he felt creatively ready, that is, until his musical language was sufficiently developed to imagine a quartet in a way that was unique and personal. He has said that "in creative work this isn't only a matter of exploring new stylistic territory; it also has to do with cultivating greater breadth within one language."
About the First Quartet Stephen Jaffe writes:
"Each movement has its own musical/emotional profile, yet the work is also integrated in both obvious ways (such as thematic recurrence) and less obvious ways (such as its overall psychological curve.) The largest movements are the first and third, each about ten minutes long.
The first movement, marked "forceful and bold" is subtitled Fantasy On Four Notes. The idee-fixe here is a four note motto (originally E Flat-B-F-F Sharp). Never far from the surface, one writer has called this a code which teletypes the changing character of the music (spare and rigorous, swinging, bluesy, rhythmically driving, etc.). The music evolves continuously, but four major sections can be discerned on first listening (roughly A—B (slower)—C— (development)—A' (varied A, with coda).
The second movement is lighter in tone. Marked "sportive, playful, with a light touch," it traces a design which listeners may imagine as a succession of trios blended into each other (as opposed to the Scherzo-trio-scherzo format of classical dance forms.)
The third movement (poco adagio, like a breathing rhythm), is performed with mute throughout. Emphasis here is on the first violin, which begins the movement alone and is prominent always as an obbligato. Although I had no specific homage in mind, the elegant French sound (which I heard in the playing of GiorgioCiompi, the violinist-founder of the Ciompi Quartet) was clearly a presence here; in the violin and in the other instruments it is part of the instrumental fabric, combining with various other special bow strokes to lend the music even more of a breathing and intimate quality. The finale absorbs hints of the Indian vina and jazz violin traditions into something like my own kind of folk-rooted music. Marked "fast and relentless," or "not loud, but joyous, extravagant," the shape of this movement is something resembling a classical rondo (with emphasis on a quick alteration of material rather than on thematic development). Astute listeners will also note thematic references to movements I and II before a variation of the opening material brings the movement to a resonant close.
The First Quartet is dedicated "to my friends, the Ciompi Quartet," who gave the first performances in April, 1991."
Notes by Jonathan Bagg
The Ciompi Quartet
Named after its founder, the renowned Italian violinist Giorgio Ciompi, The Ciompi Quartet has been in residence at Duke University since 1965. As Artists-in-Residence in the Department of Music at Duke, the members perform as soloists and ensemble musicians, and teach strings and chamber music. The Quartet is active as a touring ensemble; in 1991 they were one of the few string quartets invited to perform in China. The quartet has also given concerts in Europe, South America, Australia, and throughout the United States. The group's first CD, featuring music by Beethoven and Frank Bridge, was released by Sheffield Records in 1990. In addition to their performance of the masterworks of the Classical and Romantic periods, The Ciompi quartet has a special interest in commissioning and performing new music by contemporary composers.
First violinist Bruce Berg earned B.S., M.M. and D.M.A. degrees from the Juilliard School, and taught at SUNY-Binghamton and Colgate University before joining The Ciompi Quartet in 1984. He has performed as soloist and recitalist throughout the U.S., Europe and South America, and has recorded for Sheffield Records, Cambridge Records, and Musical Heritage Society. Mr. Berg is also a specialist on baroque violin, having served as concertmaster and concerto soloist with Concert Royal, The Ensemble for Early Music, The Carolina Consort, and Boston's Banchetto Musicale. He plays on an Amati violin from 1626.
Hsiao-mei Ku joined The Ciompi Quartet as second violinist in 1990-91, relinquishing her post as Associate Concertmaster of the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra. She came to the United States in 1979 to earn her Master's Degree in Violin and Performer's Certificate from the Indiana University School of Music. In China, Ms. Ku earned a reputation as one of the country's leading violinists, touring as solo recitalist and serving as Concertmaster and soloist with me Tsung-cheng Orchestra. In the U.S., she has been Associate Concertmaster of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, Concertmaster for the 1988 and 1991 North Carolina Symphony summer seasons, and an active chamber music performer with professional ensembles throughout the state of North Carolina.
Violist Jonathan Bagg joined the quartet in 1986, moving from New England to accept the post. A graduate of Yale University, Bagg holds an M.M. from the New England Conservatory, and has performed with a number of New England's leading musical organizations, including solo appearances with the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, the Monadnock Music Orchestra, and the New Haven Symphony. For four years he was principal viola of the New Hampshire Symphony, and appeared often with the Boston Symphony. As a recitalist, Mr. Bagg has traversed much of the viola's solo repertoire, as well as introducing newly composed and neglected works for the instrument.
Fred Raimi is the longest-serving member of The Ciompi Quartet, having joined the ensemble in 1974. A graduate of the Juilliard School, Mr. Raimi received his M.M. from SUNY-Binghamton, where he also performed as a member of the Amici Quartet. He has been ortist-in-residence at both Hamilton and Colgate Universities, and won the International Cello Competition in Portugal in 1971. He was a member of Pablo Casals' final master class, and has participated in chamber music festivals throughout the country, including the Spoleto Festival, Marlboro Festival, and Monadnock Music.
Recorded November 25-26,1991 (faffe) and March 24-25,1992,at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, Durham, North Carolina. Engineering by Kevin Hayes and Terry Medalen. Digital Editing by Mike Lawler at Studio B, Charlotte, North Carolina. The Copland pieces are published by Boosey and Hawkes. Robert Ward's First String Quartet is published by Galaxy/Highgate Press, E.C. Schirmer. Stephen Jaffe's First Quartet is published by Merion Music, Inc. (Theodore Presser Company).