PROGRAM #2: Prizing the Pulitzer

Aaron Jay Kernis: String Quartet No. 2 "Musica instrumentalis"
John Corigliano: String Quartet No. 1 "Farewell"

this program is available beginning in fall 2007

The Pulitzer Prize in Music is among the highest honors that can be bestowed on an American composer, and it honors a single composition that was premiered in a given year. Most often, this prize honors a symphonic work, an opera, or some other work of grand proportions for a large ensemble. A few times in its history, however, a string quartet has earned a composer the Pulitzer Prize.

One such work, John Corigliano's Farewell Quartet, has a strong place in the heart of the Corigliano Quartet: the Coriligano Quartet was founded in 1996 for the purpose of playing this work, and they so impressed the composer that he encouraged them to continue performing, and allowed them to do so under his name. Needless to say, the Farewell Quartet has remained a staple of their repertoire for these ten years. In 2001, the Farewell Quartet (in an expanded setting for string orchestra as his Symphony No. 2) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

John Corigliano considers this quartet to be among his most intense works, which is why he chose to arrange it as his second symphony. The "farewell" in its title refers to the parting of the members of the Cleveland Quartet, for whose final tour the work was commissioned.

The Farewell Quartet, while flowingly lyrical and rhythmically energized, is saturated with techniques of the twentieth century, and it calls for the performance of quarter-tones, difficult polyrhythmic coordination, and improvisation based on "proportional notation" in which the quartet members are given great freedom to synchronize given gestures.

Aaron Jay Kernis' String Quartet No. 2 "Musica instrumentalis" won the Pulitzer in 1998. As much as Corigliano's quartet is steeped in the techniques of the twentieth century, Kernis' quartet is inspired by dances from the Renaissance through Romantic eras. Its three movements, with titles such as "Double Triple Gigue Fugue" and "Prelude - Air - Corrente - Stretto - Canzonetta - Musette - Canzoneta Piccola - Ritornelli Diversi e con Variazioni" seem to pack together as many classic techniques as possible. The resulting quartet is imbued with seemingly boundless energy, full of ornaments and arabesques.

Kernis calls his first movement as "a kaleidescope, an overstuffed medley of many types of dances played separately and sometimes simultaneously." In this first movement, a bustling atmosphere is leavened with gentler dances (the canzonetta and musette). In the second movement, the inverse occurs: expansive sarabandes are interrupted by bursts of frenetic, furious music. The final movement, subtitled "After Beethoven," is a sonata inspired by ideas culled from the final movement of Beethoven's third "Razumovsky" quartet (with a little pun on his ninth symphony inserted). And like Beethoven's finale, it's a delightful romp that is always on the verge of spinning out of control.