In ten movements:
Ugly and relentless
Cold and hot
Like the wind
Composers sometimes seek to conjoin their muse with other arts-with the poetry of song, for instance, or more exceptionally with the visual, by representing through sound their special Pictures at an Exhibition. I too have done so, giving graphic titles (Eagles, Sunday Morning, Pilgrims), complete with literary footnotes, to non-vocal compositions. Since music is the one art without provable meaning, a composer cannot expect you to know that his piece is about the sea, or hell, or a summer garden, or even about such generalities as love and weather, much less knives and forks, unless he tells you so in words.
Thus it was with the Fourth String Quartet. The ten sections were (I persuaded myself) inspired by ten pictures of a certain powerful painter, each section titled after a specific canvas. Indeed, until today, the Emerson Quartet programmes listed these famous titles complete with my verbal descriptions.
Now I find the device irrelevant, in that no music irrefutably depicts other than itself. Henceforth listeners must make way for their own images.
But these paragraphs are unfair to those who enjoy reading as they listen, so I'll add that the music came rapidly, four of the movements being written in January of 1994, the six others during a fortnight at Yaddo the following July. Most of the ten "pictures" are related thematically, and are all related, I pray, theatrically. The work was commissioned by the South Mountain Association especially for the Emersons, and lasts about 29 minutes.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer