Richard Wilson: String Quartets, Canzona


Richard Wilson provides the following




Each of the three movements of this work bears a title and exhibits a perceptible formal design. The first is called Prelude, not only for the obvious reason, but because its prominent, early-on pedal point—the cello's C-string— gives rise to a particularly anticipatory feeling. (One thinks of preludes of Bach and their often lavish pedal points.) This opening movement is an arch whose constituent parts are smoothly joined. A central area building to a dynamic high point is enclosed by passages in which the second violin and viola review the harmonic vocabulary of the work as a whole beneath expressive, often high-ranging commentary from the first violin and over the cello's pedal point mentioned above. These are in turn enclosed by a duet between second violin and viola with plucked punctuation from the cello. A trio at the work's opening, this passage expands to four parts as it returns to serve as coda to the first movement.

The second movement takes the name Episode because it serves as a dramatic interlude at a certain remove from the main line of the work. Its character is a blend of scherzo and march. Like those forms, and unlike the first movement, it comprises sharply articulated sections. These may be understood as ABA'B', where A' and B' show interruptions, intercalations, and elaborations of the original statements.

With the concluding Elegy, the slow harmonic motion of the Prelude resumes, but instead of cold, open-string pedals there appears as underpinning the vibrant stopped note, C-sharp, creating a relationship in which the first movement acts as leading tone to the third. (That the resolution of this leading tone is delayed by the entirety of the second movement provides a structural basis for its being entitled Episode.) The Elegy is a refrain-dominated piece, deeply serious in tone and manner.

I tried to design this work so that the overall shape would be prefigured in general by the form of the first movement. The second movement thus plays a role similar to that of the central section of the first movement. The outer movements are related to each other in expressive intensity if not in thematic detail.

String Quartet No 3 was commissioned for the Muir String Quartet by the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation. It is dedicated to the members of the Muir and to Leon Botstein. The Muir gave the first performances at Yale and Vassar in April, 1983 and recorded the work for CRI. In July, 1984, the Delmé Quartet gave the London première in Wigmore Hall and subsequently recorded the work for broadcast on Radio 3 of the BBC.

CANZONA for Horn and String Quartet

Canzonafor Horn and String Quartet was written in 2001 in memory of Luise Vosgerchian, who died in March, 2000. Ms. Vosgerchian taught music at Harvard for thirty-one years beginning in 1959, the year that I became a student there. A charismatic performer, lecturer and mentor, she was an inspiration to hundreds of young musicians at Harvard, Tanglewood and in the Boston area. The work received its first performance on February 8, 2002 at Vassar College by Gail Williams and The Chicago String Quartet.


I composed four of the five movements of my fourth string quartet during the month of June, 1997, when I was resident at the Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy, overlooking Lake Como. My wife and I were indeed enjoying the splendors of the region and of our accommodations. But in writing the quartet I kept thinking of our dear friend and colleague Bette Snapp. Bette had been my “representative” for a number of years and had shared with us the ups and downs of a career in music composition. But she could not share that particularly glorious Italian “up”—because she had died of cancer earlier in April, 1997. Bette was a person of great spirit and lively humor. As this quartet was the first work I embarked upon since her death, I wanted it in some way to bear her imprint. In the end, I decided to dedicate the movement indicated “sadly” to her memory. But the quirkiness, and what I hope is zest, of the other movements may reflect her influence as well. The first movement is a scherzo. The second movement, which I composed during December of 2000, is a lyrical interlude before the third movement, which is another scherzo, sterner in tone than the first movement. The fourth movement is the lament for Bette. The fifth movement was inspired by the long legato lines of certain Brahms and Dvorak finales about which had I lectured at the American Symphony, and which continued to play in my inner ear while we were at Bellagio.

This work was commissioned for The Chicago String Quartet by the Prince Charitable Trusts and the Chicago Chamber Musicians. The world premiere of the four-movement version took place at the 92nd Street Y, NYC, on January 17, 1998. The five-movement version was premiered at Vassar College on February 17, 2001. In both instances, The Chicago String Quartet performed.


Richard Wilson is the composer of some eighty works in many genres, including opera. He has received such recognition as the Hinrichsen Award (from the American Academy /Institute of Arts and Letters), the Stoeger Prize (from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center), the Cleveland Arts Prize (from the Women's City Club of Cleveland), and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Recent commissions have come from the Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations. His orchestral works have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony, the London Philharmonic, the American Symphony, the Pro-Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Colombia, the Residentie Orkest of The Hague, and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic.

Five CDs containing Mr. Wilson's music have recently been released. These include his complete choral music performed by the William Appling Singers, William Appling conducting (Albany Troy 333); his Symphony No. 1, performed by James Sedares and the New Zealand Symphony, along with the Viola Sonata, Gnomics, and Tribulations (Koch International); A Child's London (Ongaku); Affirmations, Transfigured Goat, Intercalations and Civilization and Its Discontent (Albany Troy 389); and his opera, Æthelred the Unready (Albany Troy 512).

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard, Mr. Wilson holds the Mary Conover Mellon Chair in Music at Vassar; he is also Composer-in-Residence with the American Symphony Orchestra, for which he gives pre-concert talks. He has been a member of the program committee of the Bard Music Festival since its inception.

Joseph Genualdi

Joseph Genualdi, violin, is an alumnus of Yale School of Music, The Curtis Institute of Music, and North Carolina School of the Arts. Formerly a member of The Muir Quartet and The Los Angeles Piano Quartet, he has performed at the Marlboro, Nimes (France), Spoleto, Bravo! Colorado, Angel Fire, Arkansas, and Skaneateles summer festivals. Among his honors are the Concours Evian, Prix du Disque, Hudson Valley String Competition, and the Naumburg Award. He is artistic co-director of the Chicago Chamber Musicians.

Jasmine Lin

Jasmine Lin, violin, studied at the Curtis Institute of Music. She has appeared as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Illinois Philharmonic, Quincy Symphony, Singapore Symphony, Symphony Orchestra of Brazil and Symphony Orchestra of Uruguay. She has won prizes in the International Paganini Competition and the Naumburg Competition. She recently toured China in a series of chamber music concerts celebrating the new millennium.

Rami Solomonow

Rami Solomonow, viola, is a graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel-Aviv, Israel, where he studied with Oedoen Partos. He was a member of the Israel Chamber Orchestra until 1972. In the following year, he moved to the US where he studied with Shmuel Ashkenasi. He served as principal violist for The Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1974 to 1995. He has recorded with the Vermeer Quartet, the Chicago Chamber Musicians and the Chicago String Quartet, and was a performer at the 1993 International Viola Congress.

Christopher Costanza

Christopher Costanza, cello, studied with Laurence Lesser, Bernard Greenhouse, and David Wells at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. In 1986, he was a winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York; in 1993 he received a coveted Solo Recitalists Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has participated in festivals at Marlboro, Vail Valley, Vancouver, Seattle, and Skaneateles. He has made solo appearances in New York City, Washington, DC, St. Paul, Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Norfolk.

Gail Williams

Gail Williams is an internationally recognized hornist and brass pedagogue. She has presented concerts, master classes, recitals, and lectures throughout North America, as well as in Europe and Asia. After 20 year with the Chicago Sym-phony Orchestra, Ms. Williams is in demand as a soloist, chamber musician and recording artist. She is currently principal horn of the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra and has recently performed on a number of prestigious chamber music series. She is a founding member of the Chicago Chamber Musicians as well as the Summit Brass, an ensemble with whom she has made eight recordings.Ms. Williams is the horn professor at Northwestern University, where she has been on the faculty since 1989. Her awards included Ithaca College's Young Distinguished Alumni Award and an honorary doctorate of music, also from Ithaca College.