This Quartet is my shortest (and, I very much hope, my sharpest) so far. I very readily admit a specific personal struggle with this grouping of instruments – perhaps, after a bunch of people singing together in a sacred space, the most continuously winning group of people making music together in history – and I now see writing a “good” string quartet as a lifelong aspiration, rather than something one just sits down to do. Even so, I would say I’ve taken this chance to lean into some of my other long-held habits.
Over the three short movements, there are lots of quick changes of scene, musical characters presented in high contrast to one another, and some virtuosic and dramatic displays, all within an abstract framework. The only reference I consciously make is in the second movement, titled "Before and after the Two Bs" (the traditional “Three Bs:” Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, are replaced, tongue-in-cheek, here by Bartók and Boulez). While the material borrows directly from neither, the sentiments of a narrow melody, such as often occurs in the 12 Notations or Mikrokosmos, presented in a highly fluctuating and variable tempo felt too close not to acknowledge. As for "Before and after?" The melody occurs in close canon at the unison in the violins and quickly breaks apart time after time.
I dedicate this piece to my friend and fellow note-smith, Chris Stark, whose fresh and open ideas about music and life give me continued food for thought and comfort.
– Sean Shepherd