Mikel Kuehn - Works

String Quartet No. 1 (If on a winter's night...) (2016)

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Live broadcast recording of the Spektral Quartet on WFMT (FM 98.7) Chicago, May 16, 2016.  Spektral Quartet: Clara Lyon and Austin Wulliman, violin; Doyle Armbrust, viola; Russell Rolen, cello.

The following is a narrative introduction that the Spektral Quartet gave before performing the piece live on WFMT (FM 98.7) Chicago on May 16, 2016:

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Program Note

String Quartet No. 1 (If on a winter's night...) was written for the Spektral Quartet and commissioned through the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University. Composed from June 2015 to March 2016, it was inspired by and is loosely based on Italo Calvino's 1979 novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. The formal structure of Calvino's book is a series of interlude-like chapters (where the reader is a character in the book) alternating with 10 novellas, each with a different plot and atmosphere yet sharing similar large-scale motivic ideas. I chose to focus on the novellas and set out to capture my interpretation of their basic moods and themes (both formal and surface). When reading Calvino's work, I am struck by its musical nature: it is always clear in formal architecture but often emits a surface containing motivic embeddings and relationships that are sometimes surprising and unexpected.String Quartet No. 1 is cast in ten connected sections following the novellas of the book. The first section, If on a winter's night a traveler, portrays the general atmosphere of steam, mist, smoke, etc., through musical analogs (special bowing, oscillating harmonics, etc.), while the second section, Outside the town of Malbork, depicts the frying of onions through crisp, metallic, ornamental flourishes, etc. Other movements, such as Looks down in the gathering shadow, are based more on an interpretation of their titles. Calvino was a member of the literary group OULIPO (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) and, as such, was interested in employing techniques in his writing that were derived from the idea of using “constraints” to generate aspects of the text's surface or content. (The OULIPO members have devised new literary forms to this effect such as the lipogram, a text that leaves out a vowel of every word, for example, the letter e). In order to attempt to capture the feel of Calvino's writing, I used compositional techniques similar to his in the creation of the musical material.


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