Kenneth Fuchs: Quartets 2, 3, 4


I met Kenneth Fuchs some 20 years ago at The Juilliard School when we were being interviewed for the master's program by an auspicious panel of composers: Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, David Diamond, Vincent Persichetti, and Roger Sessions. I was impressed by my initial conversation with him and happy that we each had been accepted into the program. I remember his very first string quartet as one of the few works of substance that I heard by a fellow composer during my six years there. Many years later we found ourselves at another school - the Manhattan School of Music. This time Ken was Dean of Students, as I took my place on the composition faculty. This happy confluence of appointments gave me the opportunity again to become acquainted with his music.

The fourth quartet displays a formidable sense of craft and imagination with the utmost economy. It is perhaps the most powerful of all his works. The third quartet, with its undertones of Whitman, is at once the darkest and most virtuosic. Unfolding with great assurance, it has a muscular quality that reminds me of the American composers Ken admired so much when he was a student - Schuman, Mennin, and Copland. Nonetheless, this third quartet, like the other two represented here, sings with its own voice from the first moment to the last. The second quartet is almost impressionistic (Motherwell aside), but it is never without the clarity of purpose that is a hallmark of his writing. The composer who is able to evoke by, tenderness, humor, wildness, and a sense of the tragic coherently within the same work does many of us a great service: he reminds those of us who love music why we continue to embrace it as an integral part of our lives. I have been privileged to know Kenneth Fuchs over the years and will be delighted to give this disc an honored place in my collection of much-loved CDs. That we are fortunate to have such extraordinary performances of these works by the American String Quartet is an added gift.

July 2001, Saratoga Springs, NY


String Quartet No.2 After Five Collages by Robert Motherwell 24:27

1. Heart of Darkness (Serioso) 3:57

2. The Other Side (Tranquillo) 4:52

3. The Marriage (Con fuoco) 2:52

4. They Are Not Heard at All (Introduzione-Presto agitato-Con fantasia) 7:18

5. Where Have You Been? (Spiritoso-Con fantasia-Presto finale) 5:10

Where Have You Been? was commissioned by the Trustees of Manhattan School of Music in honor of Gordon K. Greenfield on the occasion of his retirement as Chairman of the Board, 1981-1994, and to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the School and the 20th anniversary of the American String Quartet, quartet-in-residence at Manhattan School of Music. The work was composed from April through November 1993 in New York City and its world premiere performance was given on May 9,1994, at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City.

Where Have You Been? is the third work I have composed after images by Robert Motherwell. It is cast in five movements and takes its form and texture from collages I first saw at the Knoedler gallery in New York City during the fall of 1984.

Motherwell has said, "the collages are a kind of diary - a privately coded diary, not made with an autobiographical intention, but one that functions in an associative way for me." At the moment I saw these collages - many of which feature torn pieces of musical manuscript juxtaposed with boldly colored abstract shapes - it occurred to me that I could express my current musical preoccupations through a musical collage juxtaposing and reorganizing a few disparate musical ideas over the course of several short movements.

I selected five collages that visually represent this concept most clearly to me - Heart of Darkness, The Other Side, The Marriage, They Are Not Heard at All, Where Have You Been? - and set about creating a work that would parallel in sound what I had experienced while viewing the collages.

During the composition of Where Have You Been?, I used my responses to the collages as emotional guideposts to explore my current musical concerns: use of pitch classes, minimalism, diatonicism, and serialized musical elements. The purity of the quartet medium allowed me to explore and further define these concerns in depth and on a small scale.

As with my other compositions after Motherwell's images, my intention is not to illustrate musically his works, but by studying them closely, to gain a working method. I approach musical materials in much the same way as an Abstract Expressionist painter might put paint to canvas: poised, with as much knowledge, craft, and discipline as possible at the ready, I let myself be guided by my own sensibility and sense of discretion, allowing musical materials to flow with as much psychic autonomy as possible. I hope to create a mood, a state of feeling, through a series of musical gestures.

The first movement of this work, Heart of Darkness, introduces one of the two pitch classes and the rhythmic materials out of which the piece grows. The first group of pitches - E-flat, F-sharp, C, A, B-flat, C-sharp, D - creates a dissonant and unstable harmonic and melodic atmosphere. The cello states a dotted rhythm followed by a triplet figure that becomes the principal rhythmic subject of the entire work. The movement is dark, turbulent, and dissonant, with jagged and angular lines.

By contrast, The Other Side is extremely lyrical and diatonic, with delicate minimalist gestures. The second pitch class - C, D, E, F-sharp, C, A, B - suggests an atmosphere of repose.

The Marriage is an attempt at coupling the ideas of the first two movements - a kind of forced marriage that ends badly. They Are Not Heard at All, the fourth and most extended movement, is the development section of the work in that it explores each musical idea, both alone and in relation to the others.

The final movement, Where Have You Been?, recalls the musical landscape through which we have traveled and affirms the power of experience, observation, and meditation.


String Quartet No.3

After Poems by Walt Whitman 19:21

6. Allegro agitato 4:00 D7 Largo misterioso: Introduzione;

Poco piu mosso: Tema con variazioni; Affrettando 9:20

7. Gioioso 5:57

Whispers of Heavenly Death is a gift for the American String Quartet. We formed a joyous relationship during the creation and performances of Where Have You Been?, traveling across the United States and to Europe, and we agreed to work together again immediately. The work was composed from September 1995 through October 1996 in New York City, and its world premiere performance was given on February 7,1999, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Walt Whitman's haunting cycle of poems Whispers of Heavenly Death has been a source of reflection and renewal throughout my adult life, and for several years I had wanted to compose a string quartet inspired by these poems. Several of Whitman's most eloquent and searching poems

about physical death and spiritual afterlife (Darest Thou Now O Soul; Whispers of Heavenly Death; Of Him I Love Day and Night; Quicksand Years; That Music Always Round Me; O Living Always, Always Dying; The Last Invocation; Pensive and Faltering) provided the inspiration for this new string quartet.

Each of the quartet's three movements is prefaced by a quotation from Darest Thou Now O Soul (the opening poem of Whitman's cycle) that sets the mood for the music to follow. The first movement (Darest thou now O soul, Walk out with me toward the unknown region, Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?) begins with a forceful tutti statement and introduces the principal pitch class - A, B, C, D, E-flat, F-sharp, C-sharp - of the first and second movements, and the principal rhythmic pulse-two sixteenths followed by an eighth, two eighths by a quarter, two quarters by a half, etc. - of the entire composition. The music is jagged and propulsive.

The second movement (I know it not O soul, Nor dost thou, All is a blank before us, All waits undream'd of in that region, that inaccessible land) begins with a meditation suggested by the ethereal mood of this verse and continues with an extended and searching theme and variations; an animated transition leads to the third and final movement.

Having resolved the tension and anxiety of the first two movements, the quartet now presents the melodic and thematic materials of the work in diatonic form; the pitch class now appears as A, B, C-sharp, E, F-sharp, G-sharp. The finale (Till when the ties loosen, All but the ties eternal, Time and Space...Then we burst forth, we float) is buoyant and optimistic, affirming the power of life and death, and the triumph of the spirit and the soul.



9 Energico-Meno mosso-Vivo

String Quartet No.4 was composed at the invitation of William Hipp, Dean of the University of Miami School of Music, especially for the Bergonzi String Quartet, in residence at the School. The work was composed from August through November 1998 in Norman, Oklahoma, and its premiere was given on September 23,1999, at Festival Miami, Coral Gables.

String Quartet No.4 is a purely abstract musical work: unlike many of my other musical compositions, it does not draw inspiration from non-musical sources such as painting, collage, or poetry. The work is cast in one movement with three distinct sections. The first section - Energico - introduces the principal musical elements of the entire composition: a pulsating tremolo figure (an ascending major second followed by an ascending perfect fourth) first played by the viola, a lyrical fragment (a series of descending major seconds) first played by the violoncello, and a series of tutti chords. These elements are taken up by all four players and provide the basis for musical development and transformation throughout a lyrical middle section - Meno mosso - and fast closing section - Vivo.

-Kenneth Fuchs


The American String Quartet has achieved a position of rare esteem in the world of chamber music. During the 1998-1999 season, the ASO celebrated its 25th anniversary with a tour that included concerts in all 50 of the United States, a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and two European tours. On annual tours that have included virtually every important concert hall in eight European countries and across North America, the Quartet has won critical acclaim for its performances of the complete quartets of Bartok, Beethoven, Mozart, Schoenberg, and Schubert.

Resident Quartet at Manhattan School of Music since 1984 and at the Aspen Music Festival since 1974, the ASO has broadened public awareness of chamber music across North America through educational programs and broadcast performances. It was one of the first ensembles to receive support from the National Endowment for the Arts for its residencies on college campuses. The ASO is currently presenting a Haydn-Mozart-Brahms concert series at Princeton University and recently completed a three-year residency at the University of Michigan.

The ASO continues to reach a widening audience through its many recordings, including the complete quartets of Mozart, recorded on a set of matched Stradivarius instruments. The Quartet's commitment to contemporary music has resulted in the creation of many new compositions, including three that have won Friedheim Awards, presented by the Kennedy Center.

The Quartet's diverse activities have also included numerous radio and television broadcasts in 15 countries, tours to Japan and the Far East, and performances with the Montreal Symphony, the New York City Ballet, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The four musicians studied at The Juilliard School, where the Quartet was formed in 1974, winning the Coleman Competition and the Naumburg Award that same year.


Composer, conductor, and music executive, Kenneth Fuchs has received numerous awards and honors for his music, including the Charles E. Ives Scholarship from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, grants from Meet The Composer, the ASCAP Foundation, the American Bandmasters Association, and residencies at The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. The University of Miami School of Music named him Distinguished Alumnus for the Year 2000.

He has written for orchestra, band, chorus, jazz ensemble, and various chamber ensembles. In addition, he created with playwright Lanford Wilson three chamber musicals, The Great Nebula in Orion, A Betrothal, and Brontosaurus, which were presented by Circle Repertory Company in New York City. His compositions have been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Ensembles (for soloists Thomas Stacy and Christopher Lamb), the American String Quartet, Manhattan School of Music, and the University of Miami, and have been performed throughout the United States and in Europe.

Dr. Fuchs is currently Professor of Music and Director of the School of Music at the University of Oklahoma, where he was appointed to direct the opening of the Stanley B. Catlett Music Center, a new $25 million state-of-the-art comprehensive music educational facility. He previously served as Dean of Students and Academics at Manhattan School of Music.

He received his Bachelor of Music degree in composition from the University of Miami (cum laude) and his Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in composition from The Juilliard School. Dr. Fuchs' composition teachers include Milton Babbitt, David Del Tredici, David Diamond, Vincent Persichetti, Alfred Reed, and Stanley Wolfe. His music is published by Theodore Presser Company and Yelton Rhodes Music; his music is recorded by Albany and Cala Records.

Produced and engineered by Judith Sherman.

Engineering and editing assistant: Jeanne Velonis.

Recorded December 14-16, 2000, in the Purchase College Conservatory of Music Recital Hall, Purchase, NY, in the presence of the composer.

This recording is made possible, in part, through the generosity of the University of Oklahoma Research Council and Mr. Gordon K. Greenfield.

Collages by Robert Motherwell

(c) Dedalus Foundation, Inc.

Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Photographs by Don Hunstein. Graphic design by Christian von Rosenvinge.

For further information about the music of Kenneth Fuchs, see:


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