Annealed in Fire
For string quartet
Kris Peysen Composer
This piece arose out of me being asked to write a string quartet for Wintergreen Summer Music Festival in 2014, almost immediately after I finished my master’s thesis. Ironically, however, a string quartet is exactly what I had decided I wanted to write next. I had already written for quite a few ‘weird ensembles” at this point (see Ex Nihilo for proof of that), and I certainly knew by now that I COULD write for something like that, so I decided that maybe it was time for me to write something more “basic.” And there’s nothing more basic, or common, than a string quartet. Which also means that it has a better chance of getting performances. And since I’m at the point now in my career where I don’t feel that I need to write for something specific in order to “grow” as a composer (which wasn’t true for most of my previous pieces – read my notes on them to find out), this seemed like a natural choice for an ensemble.
So I began writing a string quartet. Next on the agenda was a woodwind quintet, and then probably a brass quartet (without timpani this time), but I’ve since been pulled to other ensembles. It’s funny though, because in my earlier years I specifically avoided ensembles like string quartets because I thought they were “boring.” No color variety. No orchestrational interest. They were, at that time to me, that dirtiest of words: homogeneous. Later, I began to think that perhaps it would be an interesting challenge to me to write a string quartet – not to actually write it, but to write it in such a way that it would still be interesting to me, since it lacked the variety of color I was more used to working with in my other pieces.
When I finally got to writing this piece, however, that wasn’t an issue at all. I never once thought “I need to make this more interesting because it’s sonically boring.” I think it’s more a matter of the fact that that attitude at the time was a reflection of my own lack of exposure – perhaps naivete – and that by this point I had grown out of it.
What was a challenge was maintaining the high energy throughout the piece. This is probably my most aggressive work yet. Maybe I needed to work some things out. Regardless, I wrote the initial forty-five seconds (essentially the introduction) and then began to start planning from there. Since it started so unrelentingly and carried such high energy, I knew I couldn’t just pull back. That would be unfulfilling and would make the piece lopsided in regard to intensity. No, I knew that I was in fact making the listener a “promise,” and that I needed to deliver on that promise. I needed to keep the energy and activity high throughout the piece, while still developing my material and allowing contrasts of mood and texture. For nine-and-a-half minutes. This was hard.
But I managed. I pulled it off. And the result is a pretty damn good string quartet, if I may say so myself. Of course I welcome other people to judge it too.
Rhythmically, there’s nothing in this piece I haven’t done before. In terms of pitch, there’s nothing really innovative there either. I feel like I’ve pretty much established those elements of my style, and now it’s simply a matter of doing interesting new things with them in each piece.
There are a few things that stand out in this piece, though. One is the high energy level that I already mentioned. Another thing that I find unusual about this piece is the fact that, whereas most of my other pieces change tempo frequently, this one doesn’t change tempo even once. Well, it does “broaden” at the very end, but there’s no actual tempo change. It is in fact my only piece not to change tempo. Perhaps this is due to my goal of keeping the energy high throughout the piece, which precluded slower tempos (and god help me if I had actually written something faster). Nonetheless, it’s something I found interesting.
July 7, 2018: Atlantic New Music Festival