Music of Ellsworth Milburn

String Quartet No. 2 (1988) was begun in 1978 at the request of Ronald Patterson, first violinist of the Shepherd Quartet and Concertmaster of the Houston Symphony. When Mr. Patterson left to join the Monte Carlo Symphony in Monaco, the quartet disbanded, and the piece went on the shelf so that I could make time for other work. Over the years I worked on it as time permitted, and completed it in November 1988 for a premiere by the Blair String Quartet.

It is in four connected sections, slow-fast-slow-fast, with sections three and four being developments of one and two. With the exception of the diatonic theme in the second slow section, all the melodic material is derived from the opening viola solo. Strong contrast of consonance and dissonance is characteristic of much of my music, and this is exploited in the harmonic vocabulary of the piece.

String Quartet No. 2 was commissioned with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Scherzo (1989) is based on a short motive from Brahms's Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano, Op. 40, which is heard in several almost literal statements as well as in various permutations of it. The music disgresses from the motive considerably, but always returns to it as a kind of structural pillar. The Stone Forest (1989) is a translation in reverse of the subtitle of Beethoven's Sonata in C, Op. 53, "Waldstein", and the piece is a condensation, almost an implosion of the main ideas from the first movement. These pieces were commissioned by and are dedicated to John Hendrickson, who performs on this recording.

Menil Antiphons (1989), the first work commissioned by Houston's Da Camera Society, was written to take advantage of the acoustical and architectural properties of the Menil Collection, Houston's newest art museum. In the first two-thirds of the piece, the horns are separated from the core ensemble, creating the antiphonal effect suggested by the title. In addition, the Christmas antiphon "Puer natus est" is embedded in the texture, in the crotales played by various members of the ensemble in the final section.

String Quartet No. 1 (1974) was written for the Concord String Quartet. Like String Quartet No. 2, it is in four connected sections, slow-fast-slow-fast, and the two pieces share some pitch material as well. I find this structure (inspired by Bartok1s String Quartet No. 3) to be very malleable in terms of proportions and allows for a continuity of thought that is sometimes elusive in pieces with separate movements.

While there are similarities between my two quartets, there are also distinct differences. The first quartet is dense, somewhat more lyrical, and more compact. There is some aleatoric exploration in the first as well, including a rather serious game toward the end, in which the players must initiate a gesture, forcing the others to respond, or respond to a gesture initiated by another. And the first is atonal, while the second is centered on the pitch "D".

String Quartet No. 1 was also commissioned with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

- Ellsworth Millburn