String Quartet:Excelsior

for string quartet, 1992, duration 16 minutes.1

            I have always regarded the string quartet as the paragon of "musical instruments," capable of extraordinary virtuosity in dynamic range, emotional range, sound colors, and sound articulations.   The ensemble can project at least four totally independent lines while affording the most unified of musical presentations at other times.  My goal, then, is to use the palette of string quartet sounds to express a kind of music that exploits the range of these possibilities.

            The word "Excelsior" is defined as "always upward." In composing String Quartet "Excelsior," I was guided by this image of ascension in creating a work which progresses into the upper pitch register of the quartet instrument and which also propels upward in emotional expression.  The work is in one movement of approximately 20 minutes duration.  While the work is not noticeably sectionalized, String Quartet "Excelsior" may be thought of as having three parts balanced as fast/slow/fast.   

            Part one introduces the main "characters" of String Quartet "Excelsior:" first, to open the work, an aggressive, driving series of rich, primarily tertian chords and companion doubly-articulated octaves;  then, a slow chorale which is gradually extended throughout the work; and, finally,  a busy, rustling tremolo figure which is later featured prominently in the middle section.

            Part two separates the quartet into paired combinations: violins against viola/cello; and cello successively paired with viola, then violin II, and finally violin I .  Part two is also distinguishable in that the melodic gestures are more drawn out or sustained in contrast to the first section in which the melodic material is generally of shorter duration.

            Part three returns to the materials and structure of the opening section.  The work closes with the quartet propelling upward to the final chord.


Millennium Chamber Society


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1 Published by Theodore Presser Co., Inc.

2 Published by Carl Fischer, Inc. = available from Theodore Presser Co., Inc.

3 Recorded by CRI. - available from New World CRI :  Catalog No. NWCRL484

4 Recorded by SEAMUS Recordings

5 Available from the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music

6 Recorded by Black Canyon Recordings

7 Recorded by Albany Records

   © Larry Nelson 2017